Thursday, January 22, 2015

1 Peter 2:11-25

Peter is not stylistically the same as Paul, who loves to collect exhortations after describing things that are true of us in Christ, such as in Romans and Ephesians.  In our section, having just stated in 2:10 what is true of us in Christ, Peter immediately exhorts us to do something directly because of it in 2:11.

Another difference between many of Peter's and many of Paul's exhortations is that Paul will state things in a way that any Christian, even one who has just begun or recently failed, can apply immediately in any case, and Peter will say things that Christians who have succeeded at some kind of behavior can apply.  We saw that in the last section, in 1:22.  There, he built a three-storey building: bottom floor was they had been born again of seed which is imperishable.  Second floor is they have in obedience to the truth purified their souls for a sincere love of the brethren, and the third floor to be built was "fervently love one another from the heart!" (1:22-23).

Peter teaches similarly in 2:12.  They had been displaying excellence?  Well, Peter says "keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles."  Someone may well ask at that point, "really Peter, is that worth saying?"  But what does Peter then say?   What does Peter envision the result might possibly be, so that they would determine to do so?

In very compact language, Peter starts with the fact that the Gentiles had been slandering his readers as evildoers (2:12), about some item, some "thing in which they slander you."  A good person is often confronted with this fact, that although they've done something good, it has been responded to with evil deeds.  The temptation to the good person is to stop it!  After all, the response (so far) is, to be called an evildoer.  But Peter says "keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles" for a reason.  Gentiles had observed them.  Yes.  Gentiles had slandered them.  Yes.  Peter has the future in his mind, and talks about "the day of visitation" -- that's the day Christ returns.  Something the Christians do now will be, possibly, according to the purpose of it, something resulting in these very same Gentiles who are now doing one thing, doing the exact opposite and even more.

Peter doesn't explain how that would come about.  But he brings it up, not because it is out of the question, but because it what he says their keeping of their behavior excellent is for.

The next two or three paragraphs (2:13-25) are some of the most difficult in the New Testament to understand in the history of ethics.  In order to see the difficulty, compare what is said here with a paragraph like Luke 22:35-38.  There is no doubt in that paragraph, that Jesus was comparing His own instructions to the disciples for a time past, with instructions for another time which was then immediately upon them.  The instructions were mutually exclusive.

We can explore this in stages, perhaps tagged with questions.  1) Is there conceivably a situation that can arise for the Christian, in which the Christian is specifically not going to be prepared ahead of time what to do?  Mk 13:11 // Mt 13:19 // Lk 21:14.  This is such an odd question for ethics, since ethics is the study beforehand of "what to do" (Lk 21:14), and to "do what is right" (1 Peter 2:20), yet the Christian in this case is told to "make up your mind beforehand not to prepare to defend yourselves ...." in this case.

2) Is there an actual situation scripturally in which the commands which are binding upon us as Christians, must be restricted to not apply in all contexts?  Mt 5:22 is binding upon us.  But compare Galatians 3:1.  This is an ancient problem for ethicists, as evidenced, with light toward a resolution, by Solomon in Eccl 7:15-18.

Taking a clue from the previous passage, 3) are there principles that govern sword versus no sword, and accusation versus non-accusation, action versus non-action?  If so, the council of submission to "every human institution" in 2:13 need not rule out the American Revolution, for example, or whistleblowing the actions of evil bosses to others, for another.  The Supreme Court just this week had to make a ruling affirming this.  The employee was unjustly terminated, the court said, for revealing the actions of his bosses.  John the Baptist can tell Herod the king, that it is unlawful for him to have the woman he had (Mt 14:4), and not violate "submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king or ...." (2:13).  Put another way, "submit yourselves" has multiple and various applications.

The pragmatic reader might well assess the situations Peter brings up, about being submissive to one's masters, and suffering unjustly, and suffering in response to a single instance of doing right (2:18,19,20), and count up the cost versus benefit.  After bringing up the fact that Christ left us an example (of Himself) "for you to follow in His steps" (2:21), Peter gives yet another reason that is not as obvious to us if we're only thinking in aggregate quantities.  Let's draw this out....

First, Peter brings up instances of Christ doing things, not just the general category, but events one by one (2:23) ... remember, Peter personally witnessed this in standing outside.  He probably remembered the evening of Christ's arrest and being taken away more than we can fathom, but here, Peter goes through it like a news story: He was reviled, but "He did not revile in return."  While suffering, "He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting to Him who judges righteously."  And finally, what we look at as one thing, Peter allows us to see as having a multiplicity to it: consider the word "sins" (lit.) in 2:24.  It occurs twice.  He bore our "sins," plural. so that we might die "to sins" (lit.).

It's one thing to have died with Christ, and to have been raised with Him, as Paul states in Romans 6:11.  Peter looks at this is a single event in saying "by His wound you were healed" at the end of 2:24.  But before that, Peter says that He bore our "sins," plural, for a reason, that we might die to "sins."  Plural.

Any person who has been wounded, and been healed, can testify to the fact that a healed person can take part in individual actions again.  To die to "sins" is to do so, sin by sin.  Just as Christ's death was also a bearing of our "sins," we, as healed once, have been purposed to die to "sins," plural.  Instance by instance, because as persons, we are those having been healed of them.  That is, we will not die from them, and deal with them as healed persons do of what wounds us.

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