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Directions for Relating to the World

1 Peter 2:11-12

Bryan Craddock – June 30, 2024

Peter urges believers to follow four directions for relating to the world: (1) hold by as sojourners and exiles; (2) hold off fleshly desires; (3) hold up your good deeds; and (4) hold on for God’s visitation. This sermon is part 1 of “A Fisherman’s Passion”, Bryan Craddock’s series on 1 Peter 2:11-5:14.

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Some people love to go fishing. It’s a restful hobby that allows them to escape the busyness of life. They enjoy the serenity of being out on the water. There’s also the thrill of the catch and the dinner that follows.

But fishing for a living is a different experience. You can’t sit back and wait for good weather conditions. There is pressure to haul in enough fish to provide for your family. It requires demanding, physical work. To keep going, you must have a passion for it.

Simon Peter fished for a living at one point in his life. He understood the commitment that was involved. So, when Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19), Peter knew that it would be more than a hobby. I doubt that he fully understood where it would lead, but it was clear that it would require the same passion.

Sometimes the word passion refers to a feeling of excitement. But it originally referred to suffering. That is why we sometimes describe the sufferings of Christ as his Passion. He did not sacrifice his life because of some momentary emotional impulse. From his prayer in Gethsemane, it is clear that he would have preferred to avoid it (Matt 26:39). But he willingly endured the sufferings of the cross to save people from sin and judgment for the glory of God (Mark 10:45).

What are you willing to suffer for? Some do it for fame and fortune, but our society places a high value on personal comfort. So, most people do everything they can to avoid suffering. But that mindset cannot be reconciled with biblical teaching on the Christian life.

Peter mentions suffering 17 times in 1 Peter. Seven of those verses refer to the suffering of Jesus, but the rest relate to believers. He begins the letter by talking about the believer’s hope, and understanding that hope prepares us to follow Christ’s example of suffering for a purpose. Like Peter himself, we must be guided by a passion to be fishers of men. So, I have titled this series on 1 Peter 2:11-5:14, “A Fisherman’s Passion.”

As Peter begins this section of the letter in verses 11 and 12 of chapter 2, he explains how we should relate to the world. He says,

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

We are tempted to either conform to the world or withdraw from it. But a passion for Jesus and his gospel will not allow either response. So, Peter urges believers to follow four directions for relating to the world. Later in the letter he applies these principles to specific situations, but we must start with this overarching strategy. To sum it up, you might say that we need to hold by, hold off, hold up, and hold on.

Hold by as Sojourners and Exiles

You can’t go fishing without going near the water. But you also won’t catch many fish by diving in. You must stay close to the water’s edge or float along its surface. Christians must maintain a similar position in relation to the world. We must hold by as sojourners and exiles.

Peter highlights this idea of being alongside in the first half of 1 Peter 2:11. Our English translation says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles…”. But in the original Greek, three of those words begin with the preposition para, from which we get the English word parallel. This repetition stands out. One word speaks to our relationship with fellow believers and the other two define our relationship with the world.

The first alongside word is translated as urge, beseech, beg, warn, or encourage. It combines the word for alongside with the verb that means to call. We could picture it as words of challenge or encouragement spoken by someone who is heading the same direction or running the same race. This sense of fellowship or teamwork is deepened as Peter refers to his readers as “beloved.” We are all in this together. We must encourage each other.

All of us who believe in Jesus Christ are born-again into the same spiritual family and given the same spiritual mission.  In his Great Commission, Jesus said that we should make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). So, this focus should unite us.  If we lose sight of it, we are bound to head in different directions and the church will become divided. So, in Philippians 1:27, Paul says,

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…

The second alongside word in 1 Peter 2:11 is translated as sojourners, strangers, aliens, foreigners, or temporary residents. It combines the words for alongside and house. The idea is that we shouldn’t settle in, because this world is not our true home. As Peter explained in chapter 1, we have a living hope and an inheritance reserved in heaven. So, we should be waiting for the return of our king.

Peter’s third alongside term is similar. It is translated as exiles, pilgrims, foreigners, or strangers. It combines the words for alongside and people. So, we should be present with people but also set apart from them. As Peter said in verse 9 of chapter 2, we are priestly ambassadors of a holy nation. We cannot withdraw from the unbelieving world. We must engage with them while maintaining a distinction.

Peter probably drew these two words from Genesis 23:4 where Abraham describes himself this way. He and Sarah did not settle down to build a house in the land or to assimilate with its people. Hebrews 11:14-16 describes their mindset by saying,

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us to live this way. He tells us to pray for God’s kingdom to come (Matt 6:10). He speaks of not storing up treasure on earth but in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). He also says that we should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness rather than being consumed by what we’ll wear or what we’ll eat (Matt 6:33).

Now Peter does not command us to be sojourners and exiles. He assumes it as the basis for the exhortation that will follow. We must begin here. This is who we are in Christ. Is it how we are living? Are we keeping the balance between engaging with the world without settling into it and becoming like it? Peter’s second direction helps us do this.

Hold off Your Fleshly Desires

The people who make scary movies or television shows reuse the same scenarios over and over again, but they get us every time. The protagonists always go into some old, abandoned house, and we know full well that someone or something is going to jump out at them, particularly in the basement. They escape and barricade themselves in a room. But as soon as they do, they will discover that they have locked themselves in with a monster. Why didn’t they know better? It all seems so clear to us as outside observers, yet we do something very similar in our relationship to the world.

We see monstrous evil out there, and we run away in fear or disgust. We withdraw and barricade ourselves behind cultural walls that seem to be Christian or at least somewhat moral. We think that this will protect our family. But then we’re shocked to find that the monster is already there. It has been lurking in our hearts all along.

Peter lovingly comes alongside us. He reminds us that we are sojourners and exiles. Then he directs us to hold off our fleshly desires. Look again at 1 Peter 2:11. He says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

I have spoken of passion in a positive sense, but the translators of the ESV use the word negatively here. Other translations say lusts or desires. So, we might be tempted to go along with Buddhists in seeing all desire as inherently bad, worthy of being extinguished. But the Bible teaches that some desires are holy and good. In Philippians 1:23, for instance, Paul spoke of his desire to depart and be with Christ. He expressed his desire to see the Thessalonian believers face to face in 1 Thessalonians 2:17. In 1 Timothy 3:1, he commended those who had a desire to serve as overseers in the church. So, desire itself is not wrong.

Peter points to fleshly desires as the problem. In speaking of the flesh, he is probably not thinking of the body. Back in verse 14 of chapter 1, he spoke of “the desires of your former ignorance”. Before coming to know the Lord, we were under the control of sinful desires. Paul lists various deeds that result from them in Galatians 5:19-21. He says,

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Even after we are born again, those fleshly desires are still present within us. As a new creation in Christ, we can resist them. But Peter says that they wage war against your soul. It is easier to say that we are fighting the world, or even Satan and his demons. Spiritual warfare is real. Paul talks about it in Ephesians 6. But we must remember that Satan’s attacks and the world’s negative influence impact us because of these fleshly desires that are within us.

So, what should we do? Most translations say “abstain”. A few say, “keep away”. But that makes it sound like these desires are outside. They’re not! So, I think it might be better to think of holding them off or pushing them away. We must fight to keep them from taking control of our thoughts and actions. We must keep looking to God’s Word for guidance and relying upon his Spirit for strength. In Galatians 5:16, Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Have you been fighting the wrong battle? Don’t blame everyone else. Recognize the monster within. Confess your sin. Fill your mind with God’s truth. Walk by the Spirit and hold off those desires.

Hold up Your Good Deeds

Light is cheap in the modern world. We flick a switch and don’t think much about it. But to enjoy light in their homes in ancient times, people had to invest time and effort in pressing oil for their lamps or boiling down fat to make tallow candles. Light was too precious to waste. That’s why Jesus said that people would never light a lamp and put it under a basket. It needs to be held up.

We will return to Jesus’ words in a moment. He was illustrating the same idea that Peter addresses in the first part of 1 Peter 2:12 where he directs us to hold up our good deeds for the world to see. He says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds…”

The ESV translates this as a new sentence, but it is not. The actions here all relate back to the main idea of holding off fleshly desires. Part of the motivation for fighting that battle is the impact that it can have upon the unbelieving world. Of course, that is not the only motivation. In chapter 1, Peter called us to be holy because God is holy, because he has caused us to be born again as children of obedience, and because Christ’s blood is precious. But we should also consider the practical impact of our behavior.

Several translations speak of keeping your conduct honorable. Some say honest or excellent, but it is the same word that Peter uses later in the verse to refer to good deeds. The reason the translations differ is that Greek has two main words for goodness, and they are trying to distinguish between them. One word makes a simple distinction between good and bad. Peter uses that term down in verses 14 and 15 as he speaks of obeying the government.

The term here in verse 12, however, describes an appreciable goodness. In the Greek translation of Genesis 1, it is used to characterize God’s creation. It is also the quality of delicious fruit and beautiful pearls. So, we must make a determined effort to go beyond obedience to behave in a way that is demonstrably beneficial for people. Hold up your good deeds. As Jesus says, “Let your light shine.”

The word Gentiles in 1 Peter 2:12 could also be translated as nations. We must behave in a beneficial way as sojourners and exiles among the nations, but we should not expect to be honored or even respected. Peter says that they will speak against us as evildoers, and he had witnessed clear examples of this response.

It began with the Jewish council accusing Jesus of blasphemy toward God and treason toward Rome (Matt 26:65; Luke 23:2). They then treated Peter and John as false teachers (Acts 5:27-40). Paul was accused of undermining Roman religious traditions and stirring up riots (Acts 19:26; 24:5). In early church history, Christians were accused of cannibalism for their observance of communion and of immorality for their love feasts. In fact, right around the time that Peter wrote this letter, the Roman Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the burning of Rome.

Why would unbelievers respond this way while seeing believers’ good deeds? In times when the gospel is gaining influence, some become jealous. Others feel that the gospel undermines their culture and tradition. Some might become angry because they feel convicted about their own sinfulness. Christians might also just make for a convenient target sometimes.

Jesus also warns us to expect this kind of treatment, but he wants us to be confident in spite of it. Matthew 10:25-28 tells us that he said,

It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The Lord wants us to openly proclaim his gospel, to fill our lives with good deeds, and to trust him through whatever may come. But Peter gives one more hopeful direction.

Hold on for God’s Visitation

The intense rays of the sun can be both beneficial and destructive. They provide the life-sustaining warmth and light that we need. They lift our spirits after a dark, cold winter. But they can also burn us and damage our skin. They can blind us, wear us down, and leave us exhausted.

The glory of God shines with a similar intensity. When it is fully revealed on earth, it will either be your greatest reward or the cause of your destruction. So, as believers interact with the world, Peter directs us to hold on for God’s visitation. But the question we must consider is whether this visitation will be beneficial or destructive. Look again at 1 Peter 2:12. Peter says,

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Some see this day of visitation as the day of judgment. Twice in chapter 1, Peter has mentioned the revelation or apocalypse of Jesus Christ. He describes it as a time when believers will receive praise, glory, and honor. But we also know that it will be a time of judgment, and the Greek word for visitation could mean something like inspection.

The Second Commandment speaks of God visiting in judgment. After the initial prohibition of making of idols, Exodus 20:5-6 tells us that the Lord says,

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

So, if Peter has this negative sense in mind when speaking of the day of visitation, then we must define what it would mean for the unbelieving nations to glorify God. To glorify God is to acknowledge his glory and to respond to it. Since they did not honor him and even slandered his people, this glorification would seem to be passive. They reflect his glory through their condemnation. The good deeds that they witnessed in the lives of believers would only serve as additional evidence against them.

While this scenario is true, I don’t think that it is what Peter has in mind. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the word glorify is used to describe people who are actively praising God. Furthermore, God can also visit people in a positive sense. In Acts 15:14, James describes the conversion of the first Gentiles through Peter’s ministry by saying, “Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.”

In this sense, God’s visitation happens every time someone is saved. Every believer has their own day of visitation. So, Peter is encouraging believers that God might use their good deeds to lead the very people who antagonize them to repentance and faith. As we face opposition, we must hold on for the day when God might lead those same people to see, celebrate, and reflect his glory.

Jesus seems to make the same point in Matthew 5:14-16. He tells his followers,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Are we reflecting the glory of God in our deeds? Do we believe that he can open the blindest eyes and transform the hardest heart? Don’t give up on the world. Hold on for God’s visitation and pray for it.

__________

How are you doing in your relationship with the world? Are you holding by as a sojourner and an exile, holding off your fleshly desires, holding up your good deeds, and holding on for God’s visitation?

If you are not glorifying God, I invite you to start today. We have all sinned and fallen short of his glory, but through his death and resurrection Jesus made it possible for us to be forgiven. Perhaps God is visiting you even now to shine in your heart so that you begin to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. If you would like to learn more about this new life, Matthew 5 would be a great chapter for you to read. It is the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

All of us who believe need to check our hearts. Are we finding the right balance in our relationship with the world? Perhaps one of these directions has exposed an imbalance. Would you work to correct it? Focus on that direction. Meditate on the passages that we have considered. Pray for God’s help to shine his light, and pray for him to visit people you know so that they would join us in glorifying him.

May God be glorified!

Reflect

How does this view of relating to the world differ from the approach that you have been taking?

Which of these directions are you most consistently following? How did you grow in that area?

In which of these directions do you most need to grow? What practical steps could you take to do so?