September 23, 2018
General Remarks on Second John
The Second Letter of John covers the same ideas and the same issues found in First John. But it does so in a shorter and slightly different format. We could say that First John discusses the ideas, and Second John alludes to them. Therefore, a knowledge of First John will be helpful to understanding Second John.
The term, “elder,” (1) refers to the ordained clergy of the Church. Pastors are elders of local congregations. Bishops, have oversight of several congregations and elders. Apostles are a special order of elders commissioned by Christ to establish His Church and teach the faith He taught to them. Except for Paul, the Apostles were with Christ during His earthly ministry. The order of Apostles ended when the last Apostle, John, died around the year 100 A.D. John identifies himself as an elder, and seems to take for granted that the recipients of his letter know and receive his Apostolic leadership.
Many have speculated about the identity of its intended recipients. But all we can really know is that the elect lady of verse 1 is a church to which John wrote the letter. The elect sister of verse 13 is the church of Ephesus, where John was when he wrote the letter.
John rejoices that the members of the church, whom he calls children of the elect lady (4), remain faithful to the truth. “Truth” is the doctrinal content of the Christian faith, especially the doctrines about the being and work of Christ. They are things that must be believed, and cannot be compromised, if one is to be a Christian. Truth also refers to living like a Christian in daily life, which John summarises in verses 5 and 6 as “love.” He is especially concerned that church members love one another (5). Christian love is compassion and unity as we walk with Christ together. It is also fellowship, a sense of being part of the family of God, with good will and good deeds and hospitality toward one another. Christian love begins with love for God, which is expressed by keeping His commandments (6). It is the exact opposite of lust, and of the current idea that all love begins with self-love.
John boldly asserts that a person who does not believe the truth and live in love, which he calls “the doctrine of Christ” in verse 9, “hath not God.” In other words, no matter how nice, or how sincere he may be, and no matter how good his ideas and beliefs sound, if his beliefs and practice do not coincide with the teaching of Christ as given by the Apostles, he is not a Christian, is not saved, and is not bound for Heaven.
John refers to the false teachers, who claim to preach Christ, but whose doctrine is different from that of the Apostles. Though their doctrine is very appealing and popular, it is heresy and lies, and John warns his people to stay away from it. In verse 10 he tells the Church to refuse to allow the false teachers into her fellowship, either as members or clergy. In John’s day, the false teachers travelled from town to town, making their livings by preaching their views. They attempted to get into the churches, where they spread their views, led the congregation into errors, and divided the congregation. John is telling the church not to let such people in, not to give them money, and not even to ask God’s blessings on them (10, 11).
This letter is, of necessity, very short, but John intends to visit the church soon (12). When he does, he will explain things more fully. Meanwhile, he sends greetings from the church he is currently visiting, “The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.”
General Remarks on Third John
Like First and Second John, Third John is written by the Apostle John from Ephesus around the year 85 or 86 A.D. is the third and final epistle of the Apostle John. The Gospel of John, Revelation, and First and Second John were all penned prior to Third John, which makes this epistle the Apostle’s last words to the Church.
“The elder,” (1) is the Apostle John (see 2 Jn. 1). Gaius is a member of one of the churches in John’s jurisdiction. He is well known for his fidelity to the truth, both in his orthodox doctrine and in his love for the brethren (5, 6, 12), especially his kindness to visiting Christians and clergy. It is probable that John himself stays with Gaius when making his Apostolic visitations to the church.
By contrast, Diotrephes (9) “receiveth us not.” Diotrephes apparently follows at least part of the doctrine of the false teachers. He believes they know more about Christ than John, the beloved Apostle knows, and he participates in the emotional manipulation and religious experiences the false teachers call worship. Therefore, he does not receive John.
Others in the church also follow the false teachers. John has written to the church (9) but received no reply. Verse 10 seems to indicate Diotrephes as the source of the congregation’s refusal to acknowledge John’s authority. This is a frightful sin. Our Lord said to the Apostles, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me” (Mt. 10:40). To reject the faithful ministry of a Godly Apostle, then, is to reject God Himself. How might that apply to the contemporary church and ministers?
John makes the sobering point that those who do evil, by not receiving Godly ministers, and by following false teachers, have “not seen God” (11). This is a direct refutation of the false teachers’ claims that they see God in visions and dreams, and that He appears to them and speaks to them, and gives special knowledge to them. John does not say what or who the false teachers have seen, but it is not God.
As in 2 John, there is much more to say, but John assures Gaius he is coming to him. They will settle the matter when they are together (14).
General Remarks on Jude
The early Church believed the author of this short epistle is Jude, the brother of Christ. He identifies himself as the brother of James, meaning James the brother of the Lord, who served as bishop of the massive Church of Jerusalem. The epistle of Jude addresses the same issues and problems identified in the letters of John and Peter. It was probably written around the same time John was writing his final epistles, around 85 A.D. People claiming to follow Christ are dismissing the Apostles’ teaching in favour of an easier and more experience oriented religion. Their false doctrine is briefly described in the General Remarks on First John.
People with false beliefs and practices have crept into the Church unawares (4), meaning the Christians have welcomed them into their fellowship without recognising the extent of error and heresy in their views. Jude recognises this, and urges the people to “ contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (3). The faith once delivered is from Christ, proclaimed through the Apostles, and delivered to the Church. It does not need to be updated or changed to suit the times and values of contemporary people. In fact, to change it is heresy and sin and wickedness. Therefore, cling to and contend for it alone.
Jude gives sobering examples of the results of changing or leaving the faith given by God. First is the people brought out of Egyptian slavery (5). Great numbers of them were destroyed, rather than retained in the nation of Israel. Why? Because they “believed not” (5). They did not believe what God said, nor did they obey His commandments. Therefore, God destroyed them.
Fallen angels (6) are a second example. Created good, and with blessings and opportunities far beyond those of people, they rebelled against God. They now dwell in chains and darkness until Judgement Day.
A third example is found in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. “[G]iving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh,” they are “set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
Each of these examples shows how wrong beliefs (doctrine) leads to wrong actions (practice). They also show how God feels about such errors. Spots on your feast of charity refers to rocks in the sea that are hidden by water but will wreck a ship and drown its people. Clouds without rain are clouds that look like they will give good rain to the earth, but bring only wind and darkness. Trees with withered (rotten) fruit cause sickness and death to those who eat of them. Foaming waves on the sea bring debris to the shore. Wandering stars are meteors falling into the blackness of darkness forever, appearing bright and glorious for a moment, but quickly burning away to nothing (12, 13). Verses 14-16 tell of God’s judgement falling upon those who follow the false teachers.
Jude reminds the people that the Apostles warned them that false teachers would come (17-19). He urges the Church to continue in the things of God (20-23). He closes with one of the most beautiful benedictions in all of Scripture (24, 25). He assures us that God is able to keep us from falling into the false teachings, and to preserve us in the true faith, “faultless” before the presence of His glory. This is accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ, who took our sins upon Himself, and paid for them on the cross. To this, the true God, “the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
September 17, 2018
General Remarks on First John
It is around the year 85 A.D. Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Romans, as John predicted in Revelation 6-11. The great tribulation of Revelation 2:10 is in full force, and Christians around the Roman Empire have died in it, including Paul and Peter. The aged Apostle John has survived his imprisonment on Patmos, and now lives in Ephesus, from which he exercises Apostolic oversight of the Church in Asia Minor. Despite his efforts, the Church is heavily influenced by false teachers claiming to have more and better knowledge of Christ than John and the Apostles have. Their false gospels have three central themes.
First, they say, God never really became a man. To them, Jesus of Nazareth was a mere human man, who, at His baptism, was infused with the spirit of a God known as Christ. Christ left Jesus at the crucifixion. He returned to Heaven, where He lives with other Gods, especially the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Second, morality has no affect on your relationship with God. Instead of being offended by your wicked deeds, they believe God is completely indifferent to them. He doesn’t care what you do, “as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” He just wants to give you a way to enhance your personal peace, and find unity with Him.
Third, personal peace, and unity with God are achieved through religious experiences, not through faith. Such experiences can range from emotion-centered “worship” to speaking in tongues, healings, and prophetic utterances. Emotional/psychological manipulation is used to create and enhance these experiences, which are often supplemented with drugs and alcohol. Such “worship” may degenerate into drunken orgies. Having such experiences, they say, is the essence of being a “Christian.”
John addresses the false gospels in the letter we know as First John. His letter will be sent to all of the congregations that make up the Church in Asia Minor, including those named in Revelation 2:20-3:22.
1 John 1
John begins at the beginning. “That which was from the beginning” (1), refers to the faith given by Christ to the Apostles. John is saying he and the other Apostles have the true and original Gospel, and the false teachers have false gospels. John, and the Apostles, know they have the original Gospel because they received it from Christ Himself. They were eyewitnesses to the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ. The false teachers claim to have gained their gospels through vision and prophecies, but the Apostles received the true Gospel from Christ. Thus, John can say, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” (3). “This then is the message which we have heard of Him [Christ], and declare unto you” (5).
We might summarise and paraphrase John’s point as: I was there in the beginning. I saw Christ’s miracles. I heard His sermons. I heard His private teachings to the other Apostles. I heard His teaching after the resurrection. I, with the other Apostles, was commissioned by Him to make disciples of all nations. I saw Him ascend to Heaven. I was there at Pentecost. I have been with the other Apostles since the beginning, and all of the Apostles agree about the message and Gospel Christ intends His Church to proclaim.
The false teachers cannot make such claims. They base their gospels on feelings, and dreams, and visions, and prophesies, which John clearly shows are not from God. Therefore, John is calling the Church to make a rational decision. Will you believe a person who was with Christ, or will you believe a person whose message of Christ comes from dreams and visions induced by drugs and alcohol?
The false teachers say morality has no affect on your relationship with God. In their view, sin, as a moral issue, is a figment of your imagination because God does not care what you do. Therefore, repentance, holy living, and even the need for atonement are unnecessary.
John disagrees. To him, God is light without darkness (5), meaning, perfect goodness from which God never, never wavers. Therefore, those who desire fellowship with Him, must walk in light (goodness and truth) with Him (6, 7). Thus, according to the Bible, fellowship, or, unity, with God, is much more than a feeling or a religious experience. It is a transformation of your entire being, which results in your coming out of the darkness of immorality and into the light of God’s righteousness. Those who claim to have fellowship with God, yet remain unchanged in their sinful ways, lie to others and themselves (6). Those who say they have no sin, either because they do not believe anything is sin, or because they believe they have achieved unity with God through religious experiences, deceive themselves (8). Furthermore, those who claim sinlessness, yet believe and live in such open and obvious opposition to the Gospel as proclaimed by the Apostles, make God a liar (10). They contradict His word, which is the same as saying God lies. Those who confess their sins are forgiven and they are the ones who have real fellowship with God. Their fellowship is not based on feelings and experiences, it is based on the atonement for sin purchased by God in Christ on the cross.
To confess sin is to recognise it as sin, and as something that makes you unfit for unity and fellowship with God. It is to recognise that your sin actually makes you worthy of banishment from God’s presence, and punishment for your evil. It is to agree with God that this is so, and to cry out to God to forgive your sins, and allow you to have fellowship with Him in spite of them. God is faithful to forgive the sins of those who confess. He is just to forgive them because Christ bore your sins in His own flesh and blood, and suffered their penalty of death, by dying on the cross. Therefore, in the cross, mercy and justice meet.
1 John 2:1-14
The true Christian is devoted to developing a life-stye of Godliness. His desire is to be like God, and to make righteousness the natural course of his life. Rather than reveling in sin, and calling it righteousness, the true Christian desires to “sin not” (1). John, therefore advises the Church to avoid sin. He is warning Christians to stay away from the false teachers’ congregations and sermons. Do not adopt their ideas or their ways. Instead, obey the commandments of God. Willingly rejoice in righteousness,
A Christian is naturally progressing toward his goal of righteousness (Phil. 3:14). But he is not without sin, yet. Every day he is in hand-to-hand combat with evil (Eph. 6:12), and sometimes, it wins (Rom 7:18-25). Be not dismayed. You have an advocate with God (1). You have someone to plead your case before the Judgement Throne of God. Jesus Christ, the Righteous will defend you. He will not attempt to say you have not sinned. He will not attempt to say your sin is good and natural, therefore, not worthy of condemnation. He freely admits your guilt and your worthiness of punishment. But, He presents His own suffering as the payment for your sins. He presents Himself as the propitiation (2) for your sins, meaning, He has satisfied the Father’s justice by dying for your sins on the cross. Therefore, you are not condemned for your sins. You are free to go.
His propitiation is for the sins of the whole world (2). This does not mean all will be forgiven and go to Heaven. It means His forgiveness is for anyone who calls upon Him in Biblical faith. “Whosoever will, may come.”
How can we know we are real Christians. How can we know whether we are following true or false teachers? You can tell by what you believe. If you believe as the Apostles teach, you may be a true Christian. If you believe what the false teachers teach, you are definitely not a true Christian. In later verses, John writes about the necessity of right doctrine as an indicator of true Christianity. In 2:3 he writes about the necessity of right living. He makes the essential point that you cannot be a true Christian without making a continuing, sincere effort to live a Godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of God.
Godly living means keeping His commandments (3, 4). The false teachers have discarded the commandments of God. They say Biblical morality is restrictive and oppressive to the natural impulses and happiness of humanity. They preach that those who believe in Biblical morality are bigoted haters of mankind. John says, “He that saith, I know Him [God], and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
It is those who keep His commandments who love God. In this way, their love of God is perfected (5). Many, then, and now, say the commandments of God have been replaced by the law of love. But how is love expressed in real life? It must be more than a mere emotion. It must be something that is done, not just felt. John’s point is that you do not love a person from whom you steal, to whom you lie, with whom you fornicate, or whose goods you covet. In other words, you do not love a person if you treat him in a way that is contrary to the law of God. Love is perfected, or approaches the way God loves, only when it moves beyond feelings and intentions into actions. Rather than deceiving, you speak the truth in love. Rather than stealing, you promote the financial freedom and property rights of others. Rather than coveting another’s goods, you work to earn your own, and thankfully enjoy what God gives to you, while actively promoting the rights of others to enjoy their goods.
In the same way, you do not love God if you intentionally break His commandments and ignore His word. Children who love their parents obey their parents. People who love God obey God. Our love for God is perfected as we keep His commandments.
Verse 6, using the analogy of walking, teaches us that true Christians conduct themselves as God conducts Himself. Our thoughts, words, language, and manners will be in accordance with the will and nature of God. We will act like Jesus acts.
The commandment to love is, at the same time, the old commandment of the law, and the new commandment of the Gospel of Christ (7-8). John shows how the law of love applies to human relationships saying “he that hateth his brother is in darkness.”
1 John 2:15-29
Why do the false teachers say there is no sin? Isn’t it because they want to indulge the lusts of the flesh and the eyes (16), yet still be “saved”? Aren’t they trying to have God and the momentary indulgence of sin, at the same time? In short, aren’t they simply trying to justify their sins by saying they are not sins? After telling true Christians our sins are forgiven, John exhorts us not to attempt to justify our sins the way the false teachers do. They love the world. They love the things of the world. They love the lusts of the flesh, and they are desperately seeking a way to cling to them, and still go to Heaven. But John says, “Love not the world” (15-17). Its lusts are not of the Father, and you cannot live for them and God at the same time.
John goes on to say those who preach that it is possible to serve the lusts of the flesh, and God, are of the anti-christ (18). Many of them once seemed to be Christians. They were part of the congregation. They professed the Christian faith. “[T]hey went out from us, but they were not of us.” They were never really part of the true Church. They were never really true Christians. If they had been, they would still be with us.
John turns to the importance of right doctrine. He says those who deny that Jesus is the Christ are liars, and anti-christ (21-23). If we remember that the false teachers claim Jesus of Nazareth was a mere mortal man, temporarily indwelt by the Christ, we begin to understand the meaning of these words. The false teachers are denying that God the Son, the word who was with God and who was God (Jn. 1:1) became flesh and came into the world to give eternal life to people (Jn. 1:10, 1:12, 1:14). They claim God did not bear your sins on the cross. Instead, He let a man die there, and his death accomplished nothing for us. Only the experiences they offer give peace and unity with God. So, the false teachers’ doctrines deny that Jesus is the Christ. John calls their doctrine lies and anti-christ.
He closes the chapter with an appeal to abide in Christ. This means to abide in the true Church, established by Christ through the Apostles. And to abide in the true faith, the one given to the Church by Christ through the Apostles,
1 John 3
Based on the love of God shown in the sacrifice of Christ, which results in our adoption into the family of God (1, 2), true Christians purify themselves (3). This means they attempt to live pure and holy lives, rather than live for the gratification of sinful lusts. The false teachers say such gratification is good and should be enjoyed. The true Christian keeps his desires under control, not allowing them to lead him into sin.
According to the false teachers, the law of God is evil because it prohibits pleasure and happiness. According to John, who learned from Christ, the law of God is good. Transgression of the law is sin (4). Christ came into the world to take away sin (5). He came into the world to forgive those who accept forgiveness. He also came to move us out of sin into Godliness. In these ways, He takes away sin.
John has already established that breaking God’s law is sin (4). In verse 8 he begins to show that sin is of the devil, and those who commit and approve of sin are also of the devil. These verses (8-10) have caused much consternation, therefore it is imperative that we understand their real meaning. John does not mean real Christians never sin after their conversion. He does not even mean it is possible for a Christian to live without sin after conversion. He is not saying Christians will not experience daily failures, even though they strive to live in Godliness. Even the Apostle Paul admitted to having sin in his life (Rom 7:13-25), and who among us would claim to be more righteous and Godly than Paul? Thus, verses 9 and 10 refer to a life-style of Godliness, not sinless perfection. When John writes of those who commit sin, he does not refer to Christians’ failures. He refers to the false teachers, and their followers, who deny that anything is sin, and, therefore wallow like hogs in all manner of wickedness. People who are truly born of God (Jn. 3:16) do not do that. Those who do, are not born of God. By their life-style, the true status of a person is revealed. The Godly do Godliness. The wicked do wickedness (10).
John moves to explain Christian love as the real expression of true faith in everyday life (11-24). Cain is given as an example of hate, and it is implied that the world, including the false teachers, is like Cain in its hatred of the Church. Remember that the Church is in the midst of tribulation when John writes this epistle. The world’s persecution of innocent Christians, who desire to be loyal citizens of their respective cities, and good Romans, is wicked and unjust, just like Cain’s murder of Abel.
Unlike the world, Christians love. Their love is not mere emotion. It is a mind set that moves us to action. It acts to relieve the needs of other Christians, but it also extends to the world at large. Early Christians were noted for taking in widows and orphans and homeless people. John reminds us that God’s commandment is to believe in Him, and love one another. Those who keep His commandment are the ones who dwell in Him. Those who do not keep His commandments do not dwell in Him, no matter how numerous, or how enraptured their religious experiences may be.
1 John 4
Right living and right believing are the two foundational tests of Biblical Christian faith. Major deviations from orthodox doctrine and practice are serious enough to call into question the validity of the faith of a person or a Church. John has been addressing right living, now he begins to address right believing. He warns that not every spirit that claims to know, and/or teach Christ, is true. Many, perhaps even most, are false. Therefore, Christians need to know how to tell one from the other. John says their doctrine will tell you. To confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (2) or to say, “Jesus is the Son of God” (15), is to profess the entire scope of orthodox Christian doctrine, and to repudiate the entire scope of heretical theology espoused by the false teachers.
The false teachers reject the deity of Christ, which is the heart of the Christian faith. If Christ is not God, His death has no effect on our relationship to God, because, for God to forgive our sin, He must bear its cost in Himself. The same is true in human relationships, and, if someone harms you, you must bear the anger and hurt of his transgression, or you must require it of him in the form of punishment and restitution. You cannot transfer your personal cost of forgiveness to another. Neither can God. So, Christ had to be God with us. He had to be Man and God. He had to be sinless. He had to die. He had to rise from the dead, and He had to return to the Father. To affirm your belief in Him as the Son of God, or as Christ come in the flesh, is to affirm all of these truths about Him. The false teachers could not affirm this, therefore, they could not affirm any part of the true Christian faith.
Testing the spirit, then, is a test of doctrinal orthodoxy. John urges the Church to test those who wish to be members, and especially those who want to be teachers and clergy, for doctrinal orthodoxy. If they cannot affirm it, they are not Christians.
1 John 5
The Bible recognises the reality of our natural appetites and desires. From sexuality to the need for food to the desire for comfortable surroundings, the Bible affirms the goodness of these desires, if they are controlled and fulfilled in ways that are in accord with God’s will and righteousness. The Bible also understands that, because our natures have been changed by sin, our appetites often become the major driving force of our lives, and that we often are more concerned about satisfying our lusts than we are about controlling them according to Godliness. This is what John means in 1 John 2:14-16. 2:16 summarises his thought, saying, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” The false teachers say such lusts are to be openly indulged; the Apostles, following the teachings of Jesus, say such lusts are to be controlled and overcome. In controlling them, we are overcoming the world, and those who are truly born of God overcome the world (4). Perhaps the following summary will help us understand John’s point.
First, real Christians are born of God. This is the new birth John writes of in John 3:3. It is accomplished by God awakening your spirit and re-orienting your life toward God and Godliness.
Second, your spiritual re-birth enables you to trust Christ’s sacrifice to make you right with God. It also enables you to begin to understand and believe the essential elements of orthodox Bible doctrine. Your understanding will be very elementary at first, but it will grow and mature as you mature in Christ.
Third, your spiritual re-birth enables you to begin a life of Godliness. You begin to keep God’s commandments, the essence of which is to love God, believe Biblical doctrine, and love your fellow Christians. You will not be perfect, but your life orientation will be toward Godliness.
Fourth, the one who does the things enumerated above, is the one who overcomes the world. Overcoming the world leads to greater faith and a greater sense of assurance that you are in Christ.
Fifth, reaching point four, above, shows that you have Biblical faith, have been born of God, are a true Christian, are “saved” and are going to Heaven.
Thus, John begins chapter five by reiterating these major points of his epistle, which also happen to be foundational to being a true Christian. This is how faith is the victory that overcomes the world (4).
The water and blood of verse 6 refer to the baptism and death of Christ. The water of His baptism, and the blood He shed at His death, bear witness to His true identity. It was Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, the Word of God who became flesh, who was identified at baptism, and who died in our place on the cross. Others also bear record of the identity of Christ. The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit are one, and their oneness is proof of the identity of Christ (7). This refutes the ideas of the false teachers that the Father, Son/Word/Christ, and Holy Spirit are three separate and individual Gods. Since they are One God, and since Jesus of Nazareth is the Son/Word/Christ of God, then Jesus of Nazareth is God. He is also Man, but John’s point here is that He is God, as fully and completely as the Father and the Spirit. And these three Persons are One God.
John closes this epistle with the clear statement that it is those who believe in Christ, as He is presented in the Apostolic Teaching, who have eternal life. Those who reject the Apostolic Teaching reject Christ, reject God, and reject eternal life (1, 12). John has written to believers to assure them that they believe the truth, and can have confidence that they have eternal life through Christ (13).
They can also have confidence that God hears their prayers (14). They do not need to have ecstatic or mystical experiences as proof that God hears them. They have the promise of God, and that is enough (20). Therefore, they can have confidence in prayer. Verse 15 does not mean they get everything they ask for in prayer. It does mean the forgiveness of sins, the fellowship of the Church, understanding of Biblical teaching, help to live a Godly life, and fellowship with God, are freely given to those who ask for them in faith. Religious “experiences,” “miracles,” and emotional “feelings” are not necessary. Though desperately sought and prized by the false teachers, they are idols worshiped in the place of God and in which faith is placed instead of God. So John ends with the warning and plea, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
September 9, 2018
General Remarks on First Peter
First Peter was written from Rome near the beginning of the period of persecution which the Book of Revelation calls "the great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14). It was a time of death and suffering for the Church, beginning with Nero in A.D. 64 and lasting nearly 250 years until Constantine granted the Church official status. Peter and Paul were martyred during this time. John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation, and Christians throughout the Empire were tortured and killed in an attempt to wipe their faith off the face of the earth.
Peter, the fisherman turned Apostle, is the author of this book. He wrote it from Rome, possibly in the year 64, just after the fire in Rome, which Nero accused Christians of igniting. The Romans had been growing less tolerant of Christianity out of fear that the Christian teaching of basic human rights and the equality of all people, would lead to slave revolts, women leaving their husbands and children, and demands for voting rights for all people. When Nero blamed Christians for burning Rome, it looked to the Romans as though their fears about Christians were coming true. Therefore, they took drastic steps to crush this dangerous religion.
1 Peter 1
Peter is writing at the beginning of the Roman persecution of the Church. His book has one primary intention and message; to urge Christians to keep the faith, even at the cost of their lives. It is addressed to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, and hand carried to them by Silvanus (1 Pet.5:12). Peter had probably been evangelising these areas before moving to Rome. Thus, by the providence of God, the lands around Israel were blessed with the teaching and oversight of three of the best known Apostles. Paul ministered along the coastal area of Asia Minor and into the heartland of Greece and beyond. John had Apostolic oversight of eastern Asia Minor, to which he wrote the book of Revelation. Peter had care of the area to the northwest of Asia Minor, to which he addressed this first epistle.
The theme of 1 Peter is faithfulness under trial based on the inheritance reserved for us in Heaven (4). He reminds us that we are strangers in this world, therefore, we should not be surprised to find that the world opposes us, or that we are never quite happy with it. But, though we face troubles and sorrows in this world, rejoice, for they are only the fire that refines our hearts for God. When the trials of life are over, we will receive an inheritance with Christ, and the salvation of our souls.
Do you find that the world disappoints you? Are you discouraged at the actions of your civil servants? Does the future look uncertain? That is the way of the world. Sinners sin, and we cannot expect them to think and act like Christians, nor can we expect their plans and activities to solve the problems of life. Do your burdens seem heavy? Is life filled with disappointments and trials? Did you expect God to make things easy for you? Worldly peace and happiness were never the goal of God for you. Do not be discouraged. Your "heaviness" lasts but for a "season" (6), your joy in Heaven will last forever (4). Yes, God promises to be with His people in this life (5), but He is with you to bring you safe at last to a place where sin and grief, sickness and death, and fear and despair are dispelled by the immediate presence of God (3-9).
Since we are elect by the foreknowledge of God (2), kept by the power of God (5), and have an incorruptible inheritance and salvation (4 & 9), we are called to conduct our thoughts and lives in ways that are compatible with our faith and our God. The whole intent and meaning of the second half of the first chapter is expressed in the words of God quoted in verse 16, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." Holiness is our goal in life. Or, at least, it should be. Truthfully, however, we often forget about holiness. We try to make personal peace and comfort our goal. We try to devote ourselves to amusements and pleasures, and enjoying the good life instead of living quiet and holy lives with God. But amusements and pleasures, and even the good life, can never really satisfy the needs of our souls. In fact, they often bring more frustration than pleasure, for they usually fail to live up to our expectations. It is much more satisfying to devote ourselves to our God given duties, and to seek holiness in every aspect of life.
1 Peter 2
The first three verses of chapter two build upon the truth stated in verse 25 of chapter one; "But the word of the Lord endureth forever." These words conclude a thought which permeates chapter one, which is that life on this planet is short, and what ever it brings to you, whether joys or trials, will be over soon. "But the word of the Lord endureth forever." "Wherefore," meaning, based upon this truth, verses 1-3 encourage a response from us, which is plainly stated in verse 2; "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby."
The reasoning in these verses goes as follows. First, we have been redeemed with nothing less than the precious blood of Christ Himself, who shed His own blood to pay for our sins (1 Pet. 1:18-19) Second, by the preaching and hearing of the word (message) of Christ we are born again into the Kingdom of God. Third, unlike flesh and grass, the word of God "liveth and abideth forever" (1:23-25). The "word of God" (1:23) has a dual meaning. It is both Christ the Living Word, and the story of Christ, the Gospel, which includes the entire Biblical narrative about our creation, fall into sin, the nature and being of God, and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, who came to give His life for our redemption (1:25). This Word will never pass away or become outdated or irrelevant. It "endureth forever" (1:25). Therefore, feed on the Word. Feed on Christ. Feed your soul with the Gospel. Feed your soul with the Bible. Lay aside all impediments and sinful inclinations, and, as newborn babes desire their mother's milk, desire and be nourished with the sincere milk of the Word.
Unbelievers, to their eternal destruction, have rejected the Word. Thus, the same Jesus sent by God to be the foundation and cornerstone of our salvation is to them a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (5-8). They feel insulted by the teaching that they are sinners, and cannot earn their way to Heaven by their own good works. They trip over the Gospel. They cannot accept it.
Peter also teaches about the Lord’s Church. It is first of all built upon Christ. This means He redeemed it by giving Himself for it. We, the members of His Church, did not save ourselves by "being good." He rescued us from death row by dying in our places. He has brought us into a new relationship with God, and has made us to be a part of His new Israel, which He calls the Church. He says we are living stones in His spiritual house, and a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ (5). The image of a spiritual house, meaning, the House of God, in which we are living stones, is a beautiful word picture of the Church. We are founded on Christ, cemented together by His Word, and if we are not in our places we leave an ugly hole in God's House. Within the Church we offer spiritual sacrifices of love to God, true worship, and holy living. Like Israel of old, we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God (peculiar people) and we live to "shew forth the praises of him" (9). Once we were not a people. That is, once we were not a family. Once we were not a nation. Once we were not the Church. Once we were strangers to God and each other. But now we have been brought into the family and House of God. We are His people, the new Israel, the Church. There is a bond between us now. We are one. God's mercy makes us one.
This truth should cause us to turn to the Word of God in the Bible (1-3). It should lead us to lay aside sin and the silly diversions of earth and devote ourselves to the Word that we may grow thereby. It should lead us to grow in our knowledge of the Word, and through it, in our knowledge and love of God. It should lead us to grow in offering spiritual sacrifices to God. It should lead us to grow in our love and service to His Church.
Our Divine rescue from the death row of souls is reason enough for us to make every effort to live a life that is devoted to God and pleasing to Him. But there is also another reason to do so; the world is watching. When Peter wrote this letter a fire had recently burned much of Rome, and Nero, Emperor of Rome, falsely accused Christians of starting it intentionally. Soon Christians were being blamed for everything from crimes to natural disasters. Christians were accused of practicing cannibalism in Holy Communion, and of stealing babies to kill and eat them in their worship. They were accused of promoting an armed rebellion of slaves, and of urging women to desert their families. All of these accusations were false, of course. The flesh and blood of Holy Communion were bread and wine, just as we use today. The equality of all people, before God and in the Church promoted peace between masters and servants based on Biblical morality and on their brotherhood in Christ. And the equality of men and women encouraged, rather than diminished their working together in the home. But the Romans did not understand these things. They feared that a rise in Christianity would lead to the demise of the Roman system, and that, if allowed to increase, Christians might become powerful enough to overthrow the Roman government by force. So an anti-Christian agenda began to spread throughout the Empire fed by official propaganda. How would the Church respond? Peter wanted it to respond by exemplary living which will show the Romans and non-Christians that Christians are a benefit to Rome and to their communities (12). Christians should be good citizens and honour the government whenever possible (13-17), even a government that is hostile to them.
Verse 18 continues the theme of good citizenship. The principle of forbearance and good will, following the example of Christ is to be the foundation of our actions and attitudes within our society. Thus, Christians should be good workers and good people to work for. This is true even of slaves; even slaves who are kept by cruel masters (18-24). It should be noted here that Peter is not justifying slavery. He is telling slaves to endure their condition as Christ endured His, and to do their work as unto God, so the Romans will have no grounds for accusations against them. Slaves should be gentle and forgiving, not pushy or vengeful, and they should bear wrongs done against them with patience as Christ also bore His suffering (19-24).
Peter gives one of the most succinct statements of the Gospel message in verses 21-25. He begins with Christ as our example when faced with unjust accusations and sufferings (23). From there, he moves to the blessed result of Christ's sufferings for those who receive Him by faith. Christ, "in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree [cross], that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (24). Christ suffered for our sins. He took our stripes (beating, punishment). He died in our places, the innocent for the guilty, and the righteous for the wicked. He suffered for us because we were like sheep going astray, lost and defenseless in a wilderness filled with danger. By His suffering He has brought us back to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
1 Peter 3
The plea for exemplary living for the sake of Christ, and in demonstration of the untruth of accusations against the Church, continues in chapter three. While there are many reasons for the wife to be in subjection to her husband, one of the most important is to crush accusations from outside the Church that Christian women are sexually promiscuous, and are urging all women to desert their husbands and children or to become sources of family discord. The Romans, hearing Christians say men and women are equals, expected Christian women to be abrasive trouble makers without sexual morals. Instead Peter tells Christian women to be in subjection to their husbands because it is the will of God, and because it shows non-Christians that a Christian family based on love works better than a non-Christian family based on force. So, Christian women dressed modestly because they were modest. They looked chaste because they were chaste. They appeared to have gentle, quiet spirits because they had gentle, quiet spirits.
"Weaker vessel" (7) refers to both physical strength, and to the emotional/hormonal changes to which women are subject. It is not a derogatory comment; it simply recognises that discomfort taxes any person's patience, and it requires men to take this into account. God requires men to honour their wives. The Christian husband remembers that his Christian wife is an heir of grace with him. Therefore he treats her as a fellow Christian, beloved both by himself and by God.
Verses 8-12 guide relationships within the Church, and give principles for life in general. Being of one mind and loving one another as brethren obviously refers to the way we relate to fellow Christians. But the principles of verses 9-12 are for every day as well as Sunday. They are for life in the world as well as life in the Church.
Verses 13-17 continue Peter's teaching on suffering in the cause of Christ. Peter wrote at the beginning of the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14) to encourage Christians to be faithful to Christ at all costs. Verse 13 reminds us that no harm can truly be done to us by people. Their accusations and persecutions may kill the body, but the soul belongs to God and He will preserve and guide it safely to our home in Heaven. Therefore, do not fear what they may do. Do not be afraid of their terrors and do not be troubled or perplexed at the presence of suffering and opposition in life (14).
One brand of pop theology claims Christ came to deliver us out of all suffering, and to give us worldly prosperity and happiness. Most Christians have been influenced by this theology far more than they realise. So, when trials and sorrows come, they wonder, "Why is this happening to me? Is it because my faith is too small? Is God punishing me?" But Peter exhorts us to have a realistic view of life. We live in a fallen world that is largely under the dominion of ungodliness. In such a world we naturally face problems and suffering. People abuse and hurt us, some dreams do not come true, and we face illness and death. Sometimes we suffer just because we are Christians, because people who reject the authority of Christ also resist and attack His Church. In addition, there are supernatural forces dedicated to opposing Christ and destroying the Church (Eph. 6:12). Their opposition can take many forms, from open persecution to personal temptation, but Christians should not be surprised when we encounter it. We are in a spiritual battle, and we should not be surprised to find that the enemy has weapons and knows how to use them.
Verse 15 shows the Christian response to this opposition. To sanctify the Lord in your heart means to dedicate yourself to holy living in whatever circumstances He may place you. Too many Christians whine and pine rather than seek God. Worse, they attempt to alleviate their pain through worldly possessions and amusements instead of God. Peter is urging us to face reality and persevere, rather than deny or attempt to escape our problems. How? "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." This will require three things. First, accept the situation. Accept that problems and sufferings happen, and accept the ones you face. Nothing will be gained by denial or retreating into fantasy. Face the facts, and accept them. Second, trust God. He has promised to be with you and to work for your good in all things. Third, do your duty. Live for God at work, school, home, and wherever He may lead you and in whatever circumstances He places you (Phil. 4:11-13).
Verses 18-22 remind us that Christ also suffered. Throughout Peter's letter he reminds us that Christ was innocent in all things, yet He was persecuted and killed (18). He gladly suffered this for our sake, "the just for the unjust." Therefore, we should be willing to suffer for His.
1 Peter 4
The willingness to endure suffering for Christ is to cease from sin (1) because it is to cease striving against God and His providence. It is to accept, even rejoice, in the circumstances in which God has placed you. Christ rejoiced to suffer for you. He rejoiced that His suffering brought you back to God. He rejoiced to suffer if His suffering accomplished the will of God. We must now arm ourselves with that same attitude. We must willingly sacrifice our own desires and comforts if that sacrifice leads us more deeply into God and accomplishes His will. Rather than insist on our "right" to have things and amusements and indulgences, we gladly give them up for Christ. That is what Peter means when he says "he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God" (1-2).
This attitude of acceptance of the will of God and willingness to suffer and sacrifice in His service is a complete contrast to the life of self-indulgence in which our own desires were more important to us than God (3-4). Furthermore, those who remain in the self-centered, self-indulgent lifestyle think we are strange for not indulging with them (4). This is one of the causes of the opposition to the Christians addressed by Peter. Romans celebrated pagan festivals with "lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries" (3) and they resented Christians for not participating in them. Christians had other duties, other priorities, and other values which set them apart from their pagan neighbors, and the neighbors disliked them for it (4).
What is the Christian response to this? First, do your duty to God regardless of the consequences. Second, let your life be your testimony to the untruth of the accusations made against you. Third, let your life be a testimony to the Gospel of Christ. The Lord will judge the living and the dead, let the Gospel be proclaimed to those who are dead (in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1) that they too may be saved (5-6).
"The end of all things is at hand" (4:7). Whether this comes by the miraculous return of Christ, or by His return for you individually, the world will not last forever, and its pleasures and sorrows will very soon fade from your grasp. Therefore, live with Heaven in mind. Live as though you plan to go there and as though you are getting ready for the trip. Verses 7-11 describe relationships within the Church in light of our impending departure. Charity enables us to overlook the frailties and failings of others, and certainly others find it easier to overlook our offenses if they know by our words and actions that we love them in Christ. Hospitality is working together as a family in Christ. It includes helping one another, but also befriending one another in all the best meanings of the word, "friend." This concept of our fellow church members as friends and community is especially important in our world of superficial and disconnected relationships. To minister is to serve the needs of others in Christ, as well as to serve Christ in His Church. To speak as the oracles of God requires those who teach and preach to do so in accordance with Scripture. All people and all their services are to be conducted with one primary goal, "that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
Peter uses an interesting word in verse 12. It is a derivative of "xenos," from which we get our English word "xenophobia, meaning" fear (phobos) of strangers (xenos). Xenos means, "alien" or "foreign," and Peter is telling Christians trouble and suffering are not foreign to those who belong to Christ. Today's pop theologians tell us that if we are really living for Jesus, know the right words to use in prayer, and have enough faith, God will keep us from all sorrows and trouble. Peter disagrees. He wrote that we are not to think trials are "xenos." They are part of life, and they are especially part of following Christ. Thus he tells us in verse 13 that suffering for the sake of Christ is actually partaking of the suffering of Christ.
When we suffer for Christ, we glorify God (14). We honour Him by showing ourselves and others that we love Him above all things. We show that opposition and trouble will not weaken our love or move us away from Him. We do not retreat when the enemy of our souls attacks (1 Pet. 5:8). We do not give up the faith when life doesn't go the way we want. Instead, we rely more heavily upon God to enable us to stand firm in His service, trust in His grace, and do our duty. Thus, moved closer to God, we rejoice in our trials because of the resulting faith they build in us.
The trials of life, then, whether opposition and persecution, or sickness and disappointments that are the natural result of living in a fallen world of fallen people, purify God's people. They are like fire that burns away impurities and tempers steel. This is part of what verses 17 and 18 mean about judgment beginning at the house of God.
Sometimes our suffering is self-inflicted. If, for example, we neglect Church, the Bible, and prayer, we should not be surprised to find our faith weak and struggling. If we neglect to acquire and use the skills to earn a living, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in poverty. Christians often underestimate the consequences of our actions, and expect God to deliver us from them. But He sometimes chooses to allow us to suffer the consequences that we may learn and grow from them. This, too, is a part of the judgment of God in verses 17 and 18.
Suffering, then, is not foreign to the Christian life; it is an integral part of it. We should not expect God to put us in a protective bubble to keep us from hurt and grief. We should expect God to use trials and tribulations for our benefit and His glory. Therefore, let us resolve to be faithful in all things and in all situations.
1 Peter 5
The "elders" of verses 1-4 are ministers who have oversight of the church (flock). Peter addresses them in their capacity as teachers and shepherds of God's people. He identifies himself as being one of them. He does not press his Apostolic authority. He humbly identifies with the humblest of them as a co-labourer in the task of caring for and feeding God's flock. Rather than asserting authority, Peter identifies himself as a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the salvation purchased by Christ (1). He speaks about what he has seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears (see 1 Jn. 1:1-3). Thus he asks people to hear him because he was an eyewitness of the life and teachings of Christ. To feed the flock is to teach the Bible, administer the Sacraments, and lead the Church in Biblical worship and service. It also includes a wide range of responsibilities, such as advising, counseling, admonishing, chastising, encouraging, visiting, and giving general pastoral care to the flock. That is a great deal of authority to put into the hands of a mere man, so Peter does a little shepherding of the shepherds. He reminds them that they are not lords or owners of the flock, and are not to act as though they are. He also tells them to lead by example. The two most important gifts any minister can give to his congregation are the pure teaching of the Bible, and a life that is an example of faith and Godliness. Ministers are not called to preach about the seven habits of highly successful people, but we do have to preach about the being and nature of God and the salvation of sinners by the blood of Christ. Ministers do not have to be great pulpiteers, but they do have to be Godly men of faith who live their faith as well as preach it (2, 3).
The flock also has duties. Christians are to submit to the elder (5). This includes all in authority, but it has particular reference to the leaders of the Church. We are to honour them, receive their ministry, and heed their counsel (see Heb. 13:17). The minister comes as an ambassador of Christ and a shepherd of our souls; we must hear him with quiet and receptive hearts. Peter refers us to the very Biblical principle of mutual submission, which he describes as being clothed with humility toward each other (5).
Verses 6 and 7 properly belong to the closing of this epistle, and in them we can see Peter drawing toward his conclusion. A great part of that conclusion is stated in these two verses. Their message is essentially encouragement to accept the providence of God as it comes to you in life. We do this in two ways. First we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. This means to accept His providence and do our Christian duty instead of pouting and complaining or giving in to despair and unbelief. Second, trust God to do good in your life, even through sorrows and cares. "Cast all your care upon him for he careth for you," means to rest yourself in His care. Trust Him to keep His promises, and trust Him to work for your good and His glory in all things.
Bringing his epistle to a close, St. Peter warns us to be sober and vigilant. Sober is the opposite of excess and self-indulgence. Christians are urged not to spend their time in idle rounds of parties and amusements. They are to be busy about their duties as parents and children and workers and church members. Vigilant is to be on guard against temptation. Remember that we have an enemy who wants to destroy us, who, like a roaring, prowling lion, seeks to devour you (8). Resist the devil with steadfast faith, knowing that other Christians face the same temptations and dangers with you (9).
Peter gives one more statement of our reason to remain steadfast to the end; the glory to which we are called in Christ. This is that "inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1:4 & 5). If there were no Heaven or hell, the Christian life would still be the only life worth living. If our only reward were to know God in this life and to do our duty to Him as God, that would be enough. But, thanks be to God, there is much more. There is a place of eternal joy waiting for us, prepared for us by Christ Himself, where we will go to be with Him forever. We may suffer here for a little while, but our joy will be forever (10). Thinking of this, Peter, in the face of his own trials and martyrdom, does in his own heart what he exhorts us to do in ours; he submits himself to the will of God whatever that will brings to him. "To him [God] be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (11). May that be our heart's prayer also.
A final note before closing the pages of this wonderful epistle; Peter says, "The church that is at Babylon ... saluteth you" (13). From this verse some have concluded Peter went further east and wrote this letter from the city of Babylon. Peter actually wrote this letter from Rome, which he calls Babylon as a symbol of its wicked persecution of Christians. Babylon was at one time a powerful enemy of Israel in the Old Testament. By calling Rome, "Babylon," Peter is signifying that it is to the Church what Babylon was to Israel (see also Rev. 18:2). Though Rome and the world be arrayed against us, Peter urges us to fear not. In place of fear, he encourages faith, with its natural result of peace in our hearts. ”Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.”