1 Peter: The Need for Humble Leaders

Title slide, "Humble leaders needed for a changing world" Background photo shows a budding tree in front of a new moon.

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
March 26, 2023
1 Peter 5

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Thursday, March 23, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

Eric Hoffer once said: “In times of great change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.”[1]

Certainly, the church (and our world) is in flux and change is all around us. We need leaders willing to learn and to risk and to depend on God, not those who consider themselves already learned. Peter, I believe, has something to say about such leaders in today’s text.

Before reading Scripture:

We’re at the end of Peter’s first epistle. In this section he encourages his readers to do four things. We’re

  • to be humble,
  • to cast our anxieties upon God,
  • to be disciplined in our lives, 
  • and to resist evil. 

And he reminds us that God has made a four-fold promise to us. God will 

  • restore us, 
  • support us, 
  • strengthen us, 
  • and establish us (within his kingdom). 

Read 1 Peter 5

A few weeks ago, I received a copy of a privately published book by a friend, Dr. Jim Spindler.[2] Jim was my parish associate when I served First Presbyterian Church in Hastings, Michigan. After a career in medicine, he returned to school to prepare himself for ministry. But in truth, he’d been doing ministry for years which should remind us that you don’t have to go to seminary to minister to others. 

Doing ministry before being trained 

Early in his life, Jim thought he might become a missionary, but he soon had children and was involved in practicing medicine and running pharmaceutical medical trials. By the way, this included Rogaine. As my head attests, they were not always successful. But that’s another story. However, he once gave me a Rogaine t-shirt and told me, I should tell people I received the placebo.   

Long before I met Jim, he started participating with mission trips with the Luke’s Society that took him to Eastern Europe and Africa. He also ran mission trips to Honduras and into the interior of the Yucatan. When I accepted the call to Hastings, I joined him on many of these mission trips and learned from him much about compassion and leadership.[3]

Leaders should lead by example

Jim is a wonderful yet humble leader. He’s slowing down, but then age catches up with all of us. He now spends much of his time taking care of his wife. In a way, he’s still leading by example. When he led trips, it wasn’t about Jim. The focus was always on the needs of people we could help. He casted a godly vision. He always worked hard, and he encouraged others. Not only was he open to advice, but he also sought it out so that he could improve the experience of the mission workers and the patients. 

In thirty years of leading short-term mission trips, he took hundreds of people along with scores of physicians, including many residents, into parts of the world beyond the tourist. We not only saw poverty in a new way but were encouraged to meet and engage with the people as valuable children of God. 

Peter speaking on leadership

As Peter wraps up his first epistle, he speaks to the leadership of the churches. I think Spindler meets Peter’s expectations of a Christian leader. 

We often think of leaders as people who are powerful and rule with an iron fist to get things done. But that’s not a Biblical example. Jesus is the antithesis to such leadership. He shoots it down with sayings like the last will be first, and if you want to be great you must be willing to humble yourself in service.[4]

Humility needed in Christian leadership

As one author notes, “Jesus teaches that the church’s leadership should be the polar opposite from those in the world. Authority is always to be that of service.”[5]

Leading God’s flock

In Peter’s last conversation with Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John, Jesus insist that Peter take seriously the feeding of his (Jesus’) flock. Peter got the message and passes it on in this letter, reminding the leaders of the churches to whom the letter was sent to tend the flock of God. 

Review of the text

Interestingly, at this last chapter of the letter, Peter changes voices and writes in the first person, as he reminds his readers that he was a witness to Jesus’ suffering and his glory. Much of this epistle, as I pointed out, is Peter reworking the Roman idea of a household code; that is, how are we to act considering our place in society. But like he’s done elsewhere, Peter turns these codes on their head. Instead of starting with those on the lower stratum of society and working up, he starts at the top, with the church’s leadership.[6]

Elders and shepherds
needlepoint of "The Lord is my Shepherd" done by my grandmother

Peter uses the word “elder” here, from which we obtain the word “Presbyterian.” But it’s clear he’s not talking about old folks, but leaders within the church. Like Jesus had advised him, he advises the leaders among his readers to “tend God’s flock.” The idea of God’s people being sheep is nothing new. In the Old Testament, God was seen as a shepherd guiding Israel. The 23rdPsalm emphasizes this role with the opening line, “The Lord is my shepherd.” In the gospel of John, Jesus is identified as the “good shepherd.”[7] In my living room, there is a needlepoint done by my grandmother when she was a young woman depicting Jesus in this manner. 

Peter takes this a step further and reminds his readers of the earthly role for shepherding leaders. But he also reminds us—pastors and elders—that the sheep we oversee are not ours. (You are not my flock.) We all belong to God and those of us who find ourselves in leadership roles are to tend God’s flock for God, not for our own benefit. 

Furthermore, we are to do this without a desire to gain recognition or reward, but willingly because we have experienced God’s care in our lives. Finally, we carry out such work faithfully, knowing that we are always under the chief shepherd and in the hope that our blessings will come when the Good Shepherd returns.


Regardless of whether we’re a leader, Peter reminds us that we’re all called to a humble life. Recalling a Proverb, writes, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”[8] Again, Peter challenges the Roman structure here, where some were to be honored and everyone else humbled. Within the Christian fellowship, everyone is to be equally humbled because we are all dependent upon the same grace. In time, we’ll be exalted, but until then, we need to be content and trust that God is in control, which is a statement of hope for many in the early church as they were persecuted for their faith in Jesus. 

Our adversary

In verse 8, Peter reminds us of our adversary, a roaring lion, is out to get us. The Message translates this verse as “the Devil is poised to pounce and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.” Evil is a reality, as Peter’s readers know. The reference to a lion on the prowl goes well with the idea of the church made up by sheep. Sheep must stay together, lest they stray and become easy prey for a lion. Likewise, shepherds must remain alert to protect the flock. Evil, as it is represented here as a lion, doesn’t threaten God’s sovereign rule. 

Bringing up the image of a lion encourages his reader to do what’s right. Peter reminds us that God is in control and can be trusted. We just need to stay with the flock. The devil out prowling reminds us of the dangers when we insist on doing things our own way and without Christ. 

 A second reason Peter may place the blame on the Devil at this point is to take the blame off those who are carrying out the persecutions. After all, Peter’s readers could name their adversaries who have persecuted the Christians who lived on the margins of society and with little control.[9] Peter doesn’t want people to seek revenge or to look upon their persecutors with disdain. Instead, the evil one uses these persecutors to carry out his devious deeds. Their complaints aren’t with the individuals who committed such acts, but with a system that that encourages such behavior.[10]

We all face danger and persecution

Peter concludes his remarks with a reminder that Christians all over the world are in danger, but that the suffering won’t be forever. “God will bestow glory upon us,” he promises. It may not sound good to know that you’re suffering with everyone else—that sounds more like misery loves company—but the hope here is that there is a new world coming. Hang on, hold fast to your beliefs, and trust the Lord. 


Peter provides an “eschatological perspective” to suffering. In other words, he points to God’s grace to encourage us to trust in God, even when things are not looking up.[11] In this closing chapter of the epistle, he writes to the leaders, but also to those who are younger (or maturing Christians) who may become leaders. During tough times, we need the church, and the church needs those who can lead and needs to be preparing others who can take their place. We all need to be growing in our faith. What are you doing to help yourself grow as a disciple and as a valuable member of our fellowship. 

Centered and Soaring

Last fall, some 15 people from Mayberry and Bluemont Churches attended a program titled, “Centered and Soaring.” Since then, many of us have been a part of micro-groups that have met for study, sharing and prayer. 

There is another opportunity to learn more about being centered in Christ and soaring within the church on Saturday, April 29. Those who attended the program in the fall should come back to be strengthened in their faith Those who didn’t attend can still come along and learn more about how we can share our faith and do God’s work in the world. I hope you pray about this opportunity and pencil the date in on your calendar, so you’ll have no excuse!  

In all we do, to God be the glory. Amen. 

[1] Tod Bolsinger used this quote in a talk given at the Calvary Partner Network. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTCB4RC2LFM

[2] James R. Spindler, MD, Blessed to Be a Blessing (privately published, 2023). 

[3] I recently wrote posted in my blog an article I’d written in 2007 about one such trip to Honduras. Click here to read this post: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/02/02/a-return-visit-to-honduras/  

[4] Matthew 18:1-4, Mark 10:42-45, and Luke 22:22-30. 

[5] Christopher A. Hutchinson, Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up is Down (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 146.

[6] Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 164. 

[7] John 10:1-18. 

[8] Proverbs 3:34. Peter actually quotes from the Greek Old Testament here, and not from the Hebrew text which is slightly different but with the same meaning. See J. N. D. Kelly, Commentary on the Epistle of Peter and of Jude, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1969), 194. 

[9] Green, 180. 

[10] It has often been pointed out that an unjust system will be problematic for both those in power and those who are denied power. Those denied power feel shame and hate toward the powerful, while those who are in power feel threatened and therefore hate toward those who are denied power. Martin Luther King used this kind of logic and is why he encouraged his followers to love and not hate those in power. See Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 237-242. 

[11] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 200.

Title Slide.  "New Leaders needed for a changing world.  Photo of the new moon behind budding trees.
New moon and budding trees, photo taken no March 23, 2023

Peter advice to those who suffer

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Church
March 19, 2023
1 Peter 4:12-19

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, March 17, 2023

Before reading scripture:

We’re down to the final two sermons from Peter’s first epistle. Our passage starts out with Peter telling his audience not to be surprised at the fiery ordeal they face. As I’ve pointed out all along, these Christians lived on the margin of society and faced persecution. Once again, Peter encourages them (and us) to stand tall when suffering for righteous reasons.  

Read 1 Peter 4:12-19

Suffering today 

There’s plenty of bad news about suffering in this world. There are wars in Ukraine, Syria, and in the horn of Africa. Think of all the innocent people caught up in the violence. Some countries treat their own people horribly, such as North Korea. Those who disagree with leaders in many countries find themselves in hot water. Other countries treat minorities terrible, especially Myanmar but when you really consider it, it’s true of many nations and own record isn’t great. 

Then there are natural disasters. From floods in California to earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, there’s plenty of suffering to go around. Children are born with birth defects or addicted to illicit drugs. Banks fail. As the technology sector of our economy entrenches, employees find themselves without a job. Fruit trees prematurely bloomed, followed by a freeze and the harvest might not be as good as in previous years. Farmers will be hurt, and we’ll miss having good fruit.  People get sick and die. 

If we want to hear about suffering, we don’t have to go far. Sometimes it might feel as if God’s off on vacation.

But what if we turned this around? The Message translation begins our passage this way: 

Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.[1]

Two (or maybe three) kinds of suffering 

From the way Peter begins this section, we can assume Christians in Asia Minor were surprised at their situation. The “fiery ordeal” Peter speaks about isn’t a natural disaster or even a war. They’re facing persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ and for that, Peter tells them to rejoice, to be glad. I suggest it’s easier said than done, but we should consider what Peter is saying.

Peter also distinguishes between two different reasons for suffering. We suffer because of our own actions, and we may suffer because of our affiliation with Jesus. It’s obvious that Peter is not addressing innocent suffering here, such as a natural disaster or even wars which are beyond our control and affect everyone nearby. 

I wonder, however, if some in the intended community to which this letter was written had a criminal background. If so, did they think their suffering unjustified. Maybe they thought by coming to Christ, who forgives sins, they should be immune from the consequences of their actions. Going back to the beginning, the church has always been a haven that embraces the guilty. After all, Jesus certainly didn’t have a problem eating and hanging out with well-known sinners. 

But embracing Christ and being free from the eternal consequences of your sin doesn’t mean that the state won’t demand payment. Earlier in this letter, Peter encouraged everyone to honor the state,[2] so those guilty of murder, stealing, or other criminal behavior should expect punishment and not consider such punishment as noble or done on Christ’s behalf.    

Suffering for Jesus

But there were also those genuinely suffering on Christ’s behalf and they, Peter says, will be blessed. It’s not a disgrace to face persecution as a Christian; instead, we should count it as an honor for we are following in our Lord’s footsteps. 

I’ve always felt Americans who claim persecution trivialized their situations. However, I admit, there are Christians in America persecuted or suffering for their belief in Jesus. Sometimes, such persecution is carried out by the church. The one persecuted stands against what’s going on and suffered the consequences. 

Two that immediately comes to mind are Beth Moore and Russell Moore (they’re not related to each other). Beth led a revival in women’s ministry. Russell, in charge of ethics and social witness within his denomination, called those in power to a higher standard. Russell lost his job for standing up for what he felt was right. Beth lost her publisher.[3] So, while we may not be in danger of martyrdom, we can still suffer for our beliefs if we take seriously Jesus’ teachings. 

God’s pending judgment

In verse 17, Peter returns to another familiar theme of his letter, Christ’s return and judgment. Here Peter emphasizes that God is still in control. The way he says this, “that God is bringing about this judgment,” sounds harsh to our ears. Is this God’s will? 

We think of judgment as harsh, but if we hear it from the ears of those experiencing injustice, we’ll see that such a view reminds them that God is in charge. Their persecutors may think they’re in control, but they’re only fooling themselves. Furthermore, this serves as a reminder to us. If we think we can run roughshod over others, we may get away with it for the time being, but sooner or later we will be held accountable for our actions. 

Carrying on this line of thought, Peter reminds his readers that if it is hard for the righteous to be saved, it’s going to be worst for the ungodly and sinners. Peter’s view here is that we’re all going to be judged. Certainly, Peter knows our salvation is through Jesus Christ, not through our own actions, but he wants to encourage his readers by reminding them that those who flaunt God’s decrees will be in for a rude awakening. Peter then ends this passage with a call for his readers to accept their suffering while embracing their faithful Creator and continuing to do what is right. 

Pure Heathen Mischief

Martin Clark served as judge in Patrick County for many years. He’s also a published novelist. I love his story about getting published. It took him fifteen years to find someone to publish his first book. After many failed attempts, he told God that if the book was published, he’d give all the profits back to his local church. He kept his promise.[4]

Unjust suffering

In his second book, Plain Heathen Mischief, Joel King is the defrocked pastor of Roanoke’s First Baptist Church. After doing six months in prison for an inappropriate relationship with a minor, his wife divorces him. Everything falls in around him, even though he wasn’t guilty of the crime. 

Edmund is the only member of the church to stand by him. Edmund is traveling west on business and offers Joel a ride to his sister’s home in Montana. It turns out that Edmund is also a conman. Along the way, he pitches an idea for Joel to quickly make a couple hundred thousand dollars. 

Joel doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He wants to rebuild his life honestly. But once he gets to Montana, he finds his sister, whose husband recently left, struggling. Because of his record, nobody will hire him. The only job he can find is as a dishwasher. And then, he’s assigned to a crooked parole officer who demands that Joel not only pay his fine, but that he always bring extra cash in a blank envelope in which the parole officer pockets… Sinking and feeling trapped, Joel decides to take Edmund up on his offer.  

Suffering justly

Edmund and an attorney in Las Vegas are involved with a cleaning service that has access to huge homes whose occupants often spent months away. The plan is for these “cleaners,” to “borrow” jewelry from the homes and give it to Joel. Joel takes our insurance on the jewels, telling the agent he inherited the jewelry from his mother. Then, Edmund sets up a fake robbery. The jewelry is returned to the home from which it was “borrowed.” Joel files an insurance claim. When he gets a check, he splits the money with Edmund.   

Everything goes smooth until the FBI comes knocking. By the way, I should let you know that this book is funny and has lots of humorous twists and turns. It turns out some of the jewelry he insured was stolen (that is, stolen before it was re-stolen). These jewels belonged to a European museum. Joel is now an international criminal. 

Joel’s problem is that he kept trying to be in control and make it all work out. By trying to fix things, he gets in way over his head… Finally, he gives in, throws up his hands and confesses everything. Because he cooperates, he receives a light sentence in federal prison.

His sister drives him to Helena where he’s to meet the prison bus to take him to his new home. Joel seems happy as they drive through the mountains. This puzzles his sister. “Joel,” she says, “you’re going to jail. Today. You’re penniless. You’re divorced. You need to enlighten me as to why you’re so chipper.”[5]  

As I mentioned earlier, Joel wasn’t guilty when he was first sent to prison… Getting out, he thought he’d get back on his feet and everything would be alright and that he could handle things, but he learned otherwise. As he prepared to return to prison, this time for a crime he did commit, his suffering turns into joy. He no longer tries to control things. He gives up running. And he still has faith in his Savior. That alone is enough for him to be “chipper” as he prepares to pay the consequences.   

From suffering to rejoicing

Let your sufferings turn into joy! It sounds foolish, but we must remember that we have a Savior who turned the cross inside out, from a cruel instrument of the Empire’s power to the sign of salvation. As the Psalmist says:

“For God’s anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”[6]

How should we live when we’re caught in a cycle of suffering?  In these verses, Peter gives us three responses. First, and as we’ve seen with Joel, we’re to let our suffering give way to joy. Of course, it took him a while to get there, but we’re all hardheaded. Then there are two other ways. By suffering we participate in the suffering of Christ, and finally, we’re to entrust ourselves to the faithful Creator by doing good.[7]  

Suffering as a part of life

Suffering is a part of life. Jesus demonstrates this with his own life. When we suffer, we need to keep our eyes on him. And when others suffer, we need to take a lesson for Peter’s failures, who abandoned Jesus when he was arrested.[8] Unlike Peter, we should stay by those who need our presence, reminding them of God’s faithfulness. 

We might not be able to bring our suffering or the suffering of another to an end. But can change the way we handle it. We can entrust our unjust suffering we face to God as does the Psalmist:

Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.[9] Amen.

[1] 1 Peter 4:12-13, The Message. 

[2] 1 Peter 2:13-14.  For my sermon on this text click here.

[3] Beth Moore has a new memoir out by a new publisher that I’ve yet to read. Russell Moore was removed from his position in the Southern Baptist Conference and now works for Christianity Today

[4] This was shared to me in when he sent me this book after I had reviewed his first book, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living.

[5] Martin Clark, Plain Heathen Mischief (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2004), 393. 

[6] Psalms 30:5.

[7] Joel B. Green, First Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 159-160.

[8] Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62, and John 18:15-18 and 25-27. 

[9] Psalm 31:5. See also Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 173. 

Late Winter Sunset, taken on March 17, 2023

Pray, Love, Welcome, & Serve

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
March 5, 2023
1 Peter 4:1-11

Sermon taped at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 3, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

This morning, think about this: “how is your life different now that you follow Jesus? To put it another way, what difference does Jesus make in what’s important to you? How does our faith in him and our hope in the life to come change how we live in the present?  

Before reading the sermon:

One of Peter’s concerns in his first epistle is what our lives should look like once we begin following Jesus. Being a Christian means more than just saying the right words about our faith. As Paul says to the Corinthians, if we’re in Christ, we’re a new creature: old things have passed away.[1]

Being a Christian means we look at other people through Jesus’ eyes. We offer grace and show them love even when they don’t deserve it. It also means there are things we do and avoid doing to bring glory to the God who showed us mercy when we didn’t deserve it.

I am going to read the passage today in the Message translation. I like how it translates this passage into contemporary language.[2]

Read 1 Peter 1:1-11 in The Message translation

The early Christians addressed by Peter knew how it felt to be marginalized by others. But then, by following Christ, they had an example. Jesus endured everything they endured and more. Peter encourages his readers, who were suffering, to think of Christ and what he endured as he took on the sins of the world. Then he reminds them to think of their suffering as a “weaning” from their old sinful habits. 

Peter makes it clear that when we become followers of Jesus, there should be a noticeable change in our lives. It’s as simple as this: we go from pleasing ourselves to trying to please God. Peter knows many of his readers have lost friends and perhaps even have been written off by family members for their decision to accept Jesus as Lord. But that’s okay. In other translations, we’re provided a catalogue of things here we should leave behind. The New Revised Standard Version lists them as debauchery, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and idolatry. 

When we give up such behavior, our former friends may want to know what is up with us. “Why be a goodie two-shoes,” they ask? The Message translation captures this perfectly. “Your old friends don’t understand why we don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them… They’re the ones who will be called on the carpet—and before God himself.” In other words, instead of us worrying about pleasing them, they should worry about not pleasing God. 

Next, Peter encourages them to listen to the Message. We might say, “hear the good news.” It is a message not just for this life. Even those who have died, who have accepted the message, will discover life. The worldview in which Peter lives is that life on earth is temporary. As I’ve reiterated repeatedly, we’re resident aliens. Sooner or later, we will die. That’s what happens. But for those secure in the grace of Jesus Christ, there will be a world to come. This is the living hope Peter introduced at the beginning of this letter and continues to focus on even here in the fourth chapter.[3]

Our passage begins with a sense of urgency. “Everything is about to be wrapped up,” Peter writes. Time is short so take nothing for granted. Be active and diligent and build up the fellowship by grounding yourselves in four areas: prayer, love, hospitality, and service… 

Peter may have developed these characteristics from his observation of Jesus as he followed our Savior throughout Galilee and Judea. Peter saw Jesus pray continually, often late at night. He remembers how he had trouble staying awake while Jesus sweated blood during his prayers.[4] Peter knew, firsthand, Jesus’ love for all people. He’d seen him reach out even to the outcast. He’d witnessed Jesus’ love for sinners be they women of the night, dishonest tax collectors and even sinful fishermen like him. Jesus cared for those no one else worried about. 

Peter had also witnessed the hospitality shown by Jesus such as when he welcomed the children. And Peter knew of Jesus’ service on behalf of others. He himself helped the Lord fed the five thousand. And he saw Jesus give of himself for the sins of the world. From Jesus, Peter learned firsthand the importance of prayer, love, hospitality, and service.  

Let’s spend some time with the last three items: love, hospitality, and service. Unlike prayer, these three are done only on behalf of others. They are a response to what God has done for us. God helped us, so we help others. 

In the 8th verse, Peter tells us to “love for love makes up for practically anything.” In other translations, its: “love covers up a multitude of sins.” This can be confusing and has been debated throughout the ages.[5] It sounds like we need a little excess love to overcome some of our sins. But if that’s the meaning, it contradicts the over-riding message of grace in the Scriptures. Jesus, alone, atones for our sins. 

But there is another way of understanding this verse. Peter, after all, addresses the characteristics of a Christian community. When he encourages us to maintain love for one another, Peter is not saying our love will wipe away our sins against God. Instead, he refers to our relationships with others. 

Peter knows every community is made up of imperfect people. Imperfect people do and say things that are often thoughtless and sometimes downright cruel. It’s part of our human condition, tainted as we are by sin, which gives us the ability to screw up relationships so easily. Ever since Cain struck Abel, human beings have had a hard time getting along. On the individual level, we fight with our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers. And this carries on to a global level.

Understanding this, Peter insists we love one another. For when we love, it is easier to forgive. Think about it in this way, it’s easier to forgive (or at least I hope it is), a spouse or one’s on child than it is to forgive that truck driver who cut you off driving down I-77. Why, because we already have a relationship with them. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t forgive the truck driver, but that’s another subject.  

Peter refers to being a part of the Christian family which is like being in a marriage. I don’t know of a marriage in which the husband and the wife don’t do something to irritate the other. But it’s not the actions of the individuals within a marriage that keep them together. Actions won’t do it. It takes love and commitment. In the same way, we who are in a Christian community are kept together by our love for and commitment to each other and by Christ’s love for us all.

Love may not be the best word here since it’s been so tainted in the English language. The type of love Peter calls for Christians to show one another is agape love. Agape is love that doesn’t seek to possess but to give. Too often we’re concerned about what we possess, wanting and desiring more. We forget the old cliché, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” 

The King James Version translates Agape love as charity. Today, a better interpretation might be caring. Look out for each other. Keep the best interest of your sisters and brothers in your heart. 

You know, a caring community has appeal. If our mission is to continue the work of Jesus, it’s imperative we care for each other. It’ll help draw more disciples, for who doesn’t want to be such a fellowship? 

Peter’s next characteristic is hospitality. When Peter wrote this letter, missionaries were running all over in a heroic attempt to tell everyone about Jesus. In the early days of the church these missionaries stayed in the homes of believers. There were not many hotels and even if there had been, few missionaries would have had the resources to stay in one. So, Peter tells Christians to open their homes and set out a table for their brothers and sisters.[6]

The art of Christian hospitality (it’s an art because it that takes practice), is needed more than ever. As a society, few of us are grounded like we once were. At one time, we knew where home was at, but many of us have lived in so many different places, it’s no longer the case.[7] We are often rootless and need the acceptance we find in friendships with other Christians. Today, as much as in the first century, hospitality should be a priority of the church. 

Now, being hospitable doesn’t mean we agree with everyone or all of what someone does. Nor does it mean we condone someone’s sin of choice. Instead, it shows our willingness to befriend others including the unpopular and social outcast in a way that maintains their dignity. In other words, following Jesus’ example, we accept others. 

Then Peter adds an addition to showing hospitality; he says we should do so cheerfully. There must have been some folks who acted hospitable but complained behind their guest’s back. This would never happen today… Yeah, right. But how can we truly be hospitable when we resent what we are doing? 

John Calvin, in writing on this passage, links the ninth and tenth verses together, noting that there is no better way to address our complaints than to “remember that we do not give our own, but only dispense what God has committed to us.”[8] “Be good stewards of God’s grace,” Peter tells us in the tenth verse. “God’s been good to you, therefore pray for one another, care for one another, be considerate of one another, and use what God has given you to serve one another.” Prayer, love, hospitality, and service are traits Peter considers necessary components of the Christian life. 

 In the eleventh verse, Peter adds a fifth trait. He warns us that we must speak as if we’re speaking the very words of God. Think about that before you say something critical or belittling. Then he closes out this section with a doxology—focusing us on the one who should receive all glory and honor. After all, all that we do are to be done for the glory of God. 

Pray regularly, love deeply, show hospitality, and serve one another. That’s our calling from God. Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 5:17, KJV.

[2] While the Message refers to the old gang, the traditional translations speak of while we were gentiles. Peter sees Christians as a part of God’s covenant. So, it makes sense from his viewpoint to speak of no longer being gentiles. On the other hand, Paul, whose mission is primarily to the gentiles, speaks of gentiles as Christians. We’re adopted into Christ. It’s a subtle difference. But both Paul and Peter insist that once we became a follower of Jesus, we live differently, which is the meaning of this passage.

[3] See 1 Peter 1:3-12. For my sermon on this passage, see https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/01/15/the-opening-of-first-peter/

[4] Matthew 26:36-46.

[5] For a discussion of various ways this passage has been treated, see J. N. D. Kelly, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries: The Epistles of Peter and Jude (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1969), 178.

[6] Kelly, 178-179,

[7] See M. Craig Barnes, Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).

[8] John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews and First and Second Peter, 1 Peter 4:10.

a predawn view looking east with the sky red and the trees still bare in winter
Waiting for the sun on this new day

Suffering for doing what’s right

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Church
February 26, 2023
1 Peter 3:8-22

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, February 24, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

Robert Marshall, a friend of mine going back to my Utah days, wrote a book titled On Rabbit Trails and Bear Hunts. In it, a preacher goes hunting. He’s not prepared for it and become lost in the wilderness. He then happens upon a cabin where a recluse lives. The man had grown up there with his parents and upon their death essentially became a hermit with no connection with the larger world. 

This man feeds the lost hunter with his soup made of game, while the who had been lost tells the hermit how to find Jesus. The man had never heard of Jesus and becomes intrigued. He’s given a Bible and reads it and dedicates his life to following Jesus. 

We can count a win for our side, right? 

How does the Church look to New Christians excited about Jesus?

Well, the hermit enters society for the first time. He’s stunned by life in the modern world. But he’s not nearly as shocked as he when he visits a church. Having come into the faith without preconceptions, he’s troubled by what he finds. This new Christian doesn’t understand why people behave and related to one another in ways so opposite from Jesus’ teachings.[1]

I hope we’ll do better. Those of us who trust Jesus need to live in a manner that honors God and reflects the love and grace of Jesus. That’s not only my idea. Peter also makes this suggestion as we’ll see in today’s service.  

Before reading the Scripture:

I’ve tried to impress upon you in the opening sermons from 1stPeter that this world isn’t out home. We’re resident aliens. Our citizen papers are in God’s kingdom. 

You know, when I was a kid and was dragged by my parents to visit their friends, my mom would always remind us to be on our best behavior. When you’re a guest, it’s the polite thing to do. In the section we’re reading today, Peter addresses the sufferings his first century audience faced, but also reminded them that they needed to behave themselves and to live gently and be gracious to everyone. And if those in the first century, who were facing persecution, could do it, we certainly should be able to follow their footsteps. 

Read 1 Peter 3:8-22

We have a very rich text today. I should have probably broken this up into several sermons, but maybe I can come back to the passage and do that in the future. 

Finishing up his teachings on household codes

Our first two verses sum up Peter’s teachings on the household codes. I’ve talked about these codes for the past three weeks.[2]It was a familiar genre in the Roman world where everyone had their place. Peter wants Christians to fit into their place, too, but with one exception. Christians not only live under the authority of the emperor or the governor. They also live under a higher authority. While they are to honor those who hold earthly power, be it Caesar, a government official, or even one’s master, they (and we) are to first for live for God. Because God showed grace to us, we should display grace to others. 

Our opening sentence is anchored in in love. This “Philadelphia love” is in the center of Peter’s thoughts, surrounded on both sides by examples of how we are to think and to feel. We’re to have a unity of spirit, sympathy, a tender heart, and a humble mind, all grounded in love, which is right in the middle.[3] Ancient rhetoric often put the main idea in the middle of one’s thoughts, unlike us who generally end with the main idea.[4]

The important thing to remember here is that we live as Peter outlines, others will see our graciousness.

As a friend said in his commentary on this text: “’Let them criticize us as foolish or whatever,’ Peter says, ‘but don’t give them further cause to criticize the church by being nasty yourself.’”[5]

No revenge

Next Peter reminds his readers not to seek revenge or return evil for evil. In the Christian economy, might does not make right. But this also means we are to take the higher ground by not only refusing to seek revenge but to provide a blessing for those who treat us badly. 

Peter encourages his readers to consider the long-term implications. Their hope is in the world to come. Even though they live “outside the boundaries of acceptable society, they are at the center of God’s salvific intervention.”[6] Peter backs up his teachings with a quote from the Psalms, reminding us that God watches the righteous and God’s face is against those who do evil.[7]

Our suffering and Jesus’ suffering

In verse 13, Peter takes up again the topic of suffering while considering Jesus’ suffering. He asks a rhetorical question, “who will harm you if do good?” After all, it makes sense that if you do good, people will leave you alone. But, as Peter knows firsthand, they didn’t leave Jesus alone. 

We should know that just because you do what is good and noble, you still might catch grief. We’ve should have all learned this lesson in Jr. High or Middle School. You show friendship to one that’s lonely, but it’s the wrong person and the cool kids shun you. It’s a mean world, and it doesn’t get any better. But we’re still to strive to do what is right. 

We see that this question is rhetorical by the answer Peter provides. He knows that some have done what is right and have suffered for it. As the old saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” But instead of feeling sorry for themselves and their suffering, Peter tells them they’re blessed. Talk about counter cultural. 

don’t fear what others fear.

But think about it. Our fears are not what others fear. Because of this, we shouldn’t be frightened by their threats or their behavior, for our hearts have been sanctified by our Lord. We don’t fear what others can do to us.[8] After all, the worse someone can do to us is to kill us. But in the light of eternity, we have hope. This hope may seem irrational in this world, but not for those of us who know our citizenship belongs to another world. 

Defending your faith 

This is why Peter then tells his readers to be ready to make a gentle defense of their faith. It seems illogical to many, but if our persecutors can see in us our love and our lack of fear, hopefully they may be touched by the spirit and led into a new life in Christ. Of course, they may not. 

Think of the Egyptian Coptic Christian martyrs in Libya who were captured by Islamic terrorist a dozen or so years ago. They refused to denounce their faith and were beheaded. Their witness remains as a visual sign that while we have it easy, some Christians in our world are more like those to whom Peter addresses his letter. 

Our hope

Our hope is in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a hope symbolized in our baptism. Baptism does not physically wash away our sins. Instead, we’re reminded of what Jesus has done for us and that we now have hope because Jesus, in heaven, watches over us. 

As Christians, we are not promised a life without suffering. And sometimes suffering comes because we try to do what is right. Yet, we’re to strive to do what’s right, to live noble and gracious lives, and despite being beaten up in this world, we’re to trust God that at the end all will be well.


There is a Japanese art form called Kintsugi. The artist takes broken tea ware and repairs them, often using gold and other fillings to make an even more beautiful piece of work. The word Kintsugi comes from two Japanese words. “Kin” means gold and “tsugi” means to reconnect.[9] These old tea pots have with their crooked breaks that shine in gold become treasures.

Likewise, we may be broken in this world, but we’re promised a resurrection. God will take our brokenness and put us back together. That’s our hope. 

Now let me end with an assignment, some homework. Peter tells us to be ready to gently defend our faith. What would you say if someone asked you why you believe in Jesus? Think about that this week. How do we explain the hope we have in Jesus Christ and what it means to us? Amen. 

[1] Robert E. Marshall, On Rabbit Trails and Bear Hunts (2007).

[2] See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/02/12/what-do-we-make-of-peter-telling-slaves-to-obey-their-masters/,  https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/02/05/loving-our-persecutors/, and https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/02/19/peters-advice-to-spouses/

[3] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 124. 

[4] For an insight into this rhetorical style, see the “Prelude: The Prophetic Homily Rhetorical Style and Its Interpretation” in Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011). Bailey, throughout this commentary, shows how Paul uses this older style.

[5] Scott Hoezee, https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2017-05-15/1-peter-313-22.

[6] Joel B. Green, I Peter: The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 114. 

[7] Verses 10-12 are taken from Psalm 34:13-17.

[8] Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:4.

[9] Makoto Fujimura, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020), 43-44.  I reviewed this book in my blog last year.  See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/02/11/the-book-reviews-theology-memoir-devotion/

Photo of Mayberry Church Road, looking south toward Mayberry Trading Post.
Mayberry Church Road looking south, toward Mayberry Trading Post

Peter’s Advice to Spouses

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 19, 2023
1 Peter 3:1-7

Recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, February 17, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

I would like to emphasize a few ideas to help us better understand scripture. 

  1. Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Without the Spirit, God’s word just becomes another book.[1] We trust that the God who inspired those who wrote the words of the Bible down will also inspire us. 
  2. Strive to hear Scripture in the way it was first heard.[2] If we do not understand the culture in which the passage came, we can very easily misapply it to our lives. 
  3. Place the passage within the entirety of Scripture.[3]Otherwise, when we pick and choose verses, it’s easy to read our own biases into the Bible. 
Being truthful about Scripture

As followers of Jesus, the one who we hold as the Truth,[4] we need to be truthful, which means we should acknowledge how the Bible has been misused in the past as we strive to do better. Committed church people have used God’s word to support slavery and to deny civil rights, to support male dominance and deny women’s rights, and even to support persecution of those who believe differently. Does this sound like the loving God revealed to us in the life of Jesus Christ? I encourage you to take up Bible Study and to get excited with what God has done, is doing, and will be doing in our world. 

Before reading the Scripture:

Today we get to examine one of the more difficult passages in the Bible. It’s certainly the most difficult passage in 1 Peter. Last week, the topic was slaves submitting to their masters. That’s also a hard passage, but hopefully none of us in this room deal with slavery these days. Sadly, however, slavery is still a problem in our world. But we do deal with one another and now Peter talks about how wives should relate to their husbands and husbands to their wives… It’s a hot topic, right?

Read 1 Peter 3:1-7

I was moving into the manse at a former church when I had my first visitor. A man stopped by asking to talk. I didn’t have a lot of furniture at the time, so we set on folding chairs I’d borrow from the church. 

“Sir,” he said, looking at me, “you got to tell my wife she can’t divorce me.” 

I had no idea who this guy was, nor did I know his wife at the time. So, I started to ask some questions and learned his wife attended the church. He didn’t attend. But he proclaimed to know the Bible. “She’s sinning,” he said. Red flags shot up in my mind. That happens whenever someone immediately blames someone else for their problems.

Before blaming others, consider your own actions

I asked more questions as to why he thought she was dumping him. He was honest, at least partly. He told me she gotten on to him about drinking a six pack after work every day. He felt he deserved this for working hard. She also got upset when he had friends over to smoke pot on the weekends. “She used to be cool about this,” he said. 

I asked what caused the change. He said they now had kids. I tried to gently let him know that I could see her side of the story and hadn’t yet met her. It appeared, from what he told me, she wanted what was best for her kids, and I couldn’t fault her for that. She didn’t want a bad example being set for them nor did she want them to be around illegal activities. This was back when smoking pot was still illegal. 

It sounded to me that his soon-to-be-ex-wife was getting her life together. I told him I wouldn’t tell her to stop the proceedings but would be willing to meet with the two of them together. Furthermore, I said, “it sounds to me that if you want to save your marriage, you may need to make some changes.” 

“I’m not here to talk about me,” he yelled. About this time, he called me some names.

Divorce not preferred, but sometimes…

While divorce is not the preferred choice; sadly, there are times it is the best choice. He left. I never saw him again. His ex-wife was a wonderful mother. She was doing what she needed to do to take care of herself and her children’s wellbeing. 

I don’t remember the verses this guy threw at me as he was trying to make his point about the sinfulness of his soon-to-be-ex-wife, but this passage from 1st Peter may have been one of them. But what does this passage actually mean? And how should we apply it to our lives in the 21st Century?

What this passage really says

First, it appears Peter’s audience here is primarily women married to non-believers. With that in mind, Peter concerns is for evangelism. The women, by honoring their husbands, may help spread the word by showing what it means to live for Christ. But even with this, Peter is going against the typical Roman household code where the man of the house established the gods that would be worshipped by himself, his family, and any slaves he may have owned.[5]

Think of it this way:  the Christian woman, married to a non-Christian, has already established some independence. Peter hopes her demonstrations of purity and reverence, along with living under her husband’s authority (which was assumed in Roman world), would be enough to help him see the truth of the gospel. 

Augustine’s mother as an example

Augustine, the fourth century theologian, provides an example of such a conversion in his Confessions. His mother was Christian. Her tenderness eventually won over her pagan husband.[6]

Peter’s advice on women’s dress

Furthermore, Peter’s advice on the woman’s appearance can be seen as following traditional codes of the age. But more importantly, it may have also helped with the unity of the church. After all, the only women who had the ability to wear fancy clothes and jewelry would have been those from the upper class. Certainly, dressing in such a manner would have visually placed them in a higher class than most of the men and women who made up the church in these communities.[7] That’s a problem because the church is not to have class distinctions.

Dressing appropriately 

Sometimes it’s good for us to dress down. When I worked for the Boy Scouts, we were expected to dress professionally when out in the community. This generally meant a sports coat and tie. But I soon learned there were a few communities in my territory that I should ditch the jacket and the tie. If someone saw me coming dressed like that in these communities, no one would be home. Instead, people would peek out at me from behind curtains. They’d think I was a bill collector or a banker looking to repossess something. More important than how we dress is that we make those around us feel comfortable. 

Advice for the husband

Peter also has advice for the husband. They are also to honor their wives and to be considerate of their needs. Peter speaks of women as the “weaker sex.”[8] This sounds harsh to us, but in a world without machines where most everything done required brute force, Peter refers to the difference in strength between the sexes. And remember, the strong should protect those who are weak. Jewish law codified this, requiring Israel to always protect the widow (one without a husband), the orphan (one without parents), and the alien (one without kin or citizenship) to provide protection.[9]

Paul’s comments to husbands and wives

In Ephesians, Paul provides a similar household code. Paul goes into more depth than Peter with the husband’s responsibility. According to Paul, the husband should love the wife like Christ loves the Church and then reminding them that Christ gave his life for the Church.[10] Furthermore, Paul, despite often being viewed as anti-women, lifts up women in ministry[11] and reminds us that in Christ, we are one. Nationality, gender, and caste have been removed.[12]

Applying the text

How should we apply this text to our lives? Peter is most concerned that we do what we can to further Christ in the world. We are to honor and love one another. While this should be expected by husbands and wives, who are to cherish each another, it extends to all our relationship. We’re to live in a manner which shows those outside the church a new way of being, one that focus is built on honoring God to whom we’re all to submit. 

What would Peter say to us today?

In trying to connect this passage to the 21st Century, I wonder what Peter would say. I don’t think Peter would say anything that would encourage male dominance and certainly not abuse. In this passage, he certainly doesn’t think women should live in fear of their husbands. I think Peter might say something about how others watch us for clues on how we live, so live in a gracious, courteous, and gentle manner. 

Others learn from our example:

There was a Washington Post article this week about Artificial Intelligence gone wild. It appears some of the chatbots, which are designed to help us find what we are looking for, have taken on personalities of their own. They become snarky, smart alecks, in the manner they respond to others. Of course, it’s not really their personality. They are just designed to learn from the interactions they have with humans. Hence, they are reflecting us.[13] This doesn’t look good for humans. 

Christians, followers of Jesus need to realize that others look to us for how to live and we should show a better way. I’m asking for grace. I know I can be very snarky when dealing with a chatbot. Even worse is the woman in our phones giving us directions. I’ve also have had a word or two with her. Knowing that they are copying me, I need to do better.

There have been a lot of changes in the world since the first century. In closing, I want to reread this passage from The Message. Listen for a better way to understand it: 

the Passage in the Message Translation

The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.

Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as “my dear husband.” You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated.

 The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.[14] Amen

[1] “Westminster Larger Catechism” question 4 states: “The Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is along able to fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.” Book of Confessions, 7.114). 

[2] Book of Confessions, “The Confession of 1967,” 9.29.

[3] “Westminster Confession of Faith,” Chapter 1, 9 (Book of Confessions 6.009)

[4] John 14:6.

[5] I have spoken about the Roman household codes in the past two sermons. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/02/12/what-do-we-make-of-peter-telling-slaves-to-obey-their-masters/ and https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/02/05/loving-our-persecutors/

[6] Augustine, Confessions, 9.19-22, as told by Peter H. Davids, The Frist Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 119), 117.

[7] Davids, 117-118. 

[8] NRSV, RSV, and the Living Bible uses “weaker sex.”  The KJV uses “weaker vessel.” The NIV uses “weaker partner,” while The Message says, “lacks some of your advantages.”

[9] See Deuteronomy 24:17-21, 27:19. The prophets picked up on this and challenged Israel to live up to their calling. See Jeremiah 7:6, 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5. 

[10] Ephesians 5:25-33.

[11] Paul often mentions women in leadership in his letters. See Romans 16:1-5, 1 Corinthians 1:11, 16:19; Philippians 4:2. He worked closely with the copy Aquila and Priscilla (See Acts 18) and her name often precedes her husbands.

[12] Galatians 3:28

[13] Gerrit DeVynck, Rachel Lerman, & Natasha Tiku, “Microsoft AI Chatbot Going Off the Rails, The Washington Post (February 16, 2023).  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/02/16/microsoft-bing-ai-chatbot-sydney/

[14] Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress 2002), 2213.

Photo of the winter sky taken near Bluemont Church. Photo by Jeff Garrison
Early Friday evening at Bluemont

WHAT? Peter tells slaves to obey their masters

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 12, 2023
1 Peter 2:18-25

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, February 10, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

To really understand Scripture, we must strive to hear it in the way it was first heard. We must also place the passage within the entirety of Scripture. Otherwise, when we pick and choose verses, it’s easy to read into the Bible our own biases. This has been done for years by using the Bible to support slavery, male dominance, and other things modern society shuns. Furthermore, for each of these topics with a verse that might support it, you can also find verses that has helped reject the idea. 

I tell you this because the next two weeks, we’re moving into a difficult part of 1 Peter. Peter says slaves should submit to their masters and wives to their husbands. Taken at face value, most of us would find this offensive. So, we must ask ourselves about the audience Peter addressed and how these passages fit with the rest of Scripture. Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but we’ll come out of it with a better understanding of our purpose in this life as followers of Jesus. 

Before reading the Scripture:

We’re in the middle of Peter’s first letter, a section which I noted last week helps people learn their place in society. Such “household codes” were common in the Roman world and Peter uses them to help his readers understand their position in society while doing God’s work.  Of course, Peter alters the “code” for his readers. They are to follow Jesus and live according to Jesus’ example while showing honor and respect to those in power.[1]Peter’s readers are in a difficult position. The Apostle wants them to be seen as good members of society and not troublemakers.

To grasp what Peter says, we must go back to his audience. As I have pointed out over the past month, they are marginalized. The Romans don’t like them, thinking their faith is built on a fantasy. The Jews don’t like them and have pushed them out of the synagogue. Many of these Christians were probably slaves. If possible, when we listen or read this letter, we should put ourselves into their position. How would Peter’s letter sound to us if we were slaves or living on the edge of society, without resources and no protection from the law? 

Read 1 Peter 2: 18-25

The good and the bad of this passage

Part of this passage I love. In the Assurance of Pardon following the Prayer of Confession, I often proclaim verse 24: “Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might be free from sin.” That’s the good news. We’re sinners! It’s nice to know there’s a way out of the slavery our sinfulness. 

But before we get there, there’s another part of this passage which sends chills down my back. “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters.” What’s gotten into Peter? We can be free of sin yet enslaved to a bad master? 

Problems with those in authority

I have been told on more than one occasion that I have a problem with authority. There’s a streak of rebel blood in me and I don’t like Peter’s advice here. But it’s in scripture and we must deal with it. So, why do you think Peter tells his readers they must accept the authority of masters even if it means suffering unjustly. Why do slaves have to be noble even when their masters aren’t? 

Peter’s readers didn’t have had the option of the legal system, as we have as free citizens. In Peter’s case, if the authorities said they were guilty, they had no recourse, at least not in this life.[2]We often forget that God is a God of justice and hates evil. Sooner or later, even our persecutors will stand before the judgment throne. 

Enduring suffering, taking the high road

But for now, Peter tells people to endure their sufferings and to set an example for others, being willing to suffer as Christ himself suffered. As Christians, we’re to take the high moral road, regardless of what others may do. 

The recipients of this letter knew there was little they could do to change their status. This passage doesn’t condone their position in life. Instead, it focuses on how they, in their humble state, can set a good example in the hope it would bring more glory and honor to Jesus.  After all, Jesus himself suffered. Furthermore, if they endure, God will witness their suffering. 

Non-violent resistance 

You know, during the Civil Rights movement, leaders like Martin Luther King called for nonviolent resistance. Those protesting were not to fight back. They sat quietly at a white’s only lunch counter in Greensboro as ketchup, mustard, and sugar were poured on their heads.[3] They fell to the ground as the batons of Bull Conner’s police force in Birmingham struck their bodies. I’m not sure I could have done that. But by not striking back, they drew national attention to their plight and hastened the breakdown of an unjust system. 

The roots for nonviolent resistance are found in Scripture, the teachings of Jesus in the Black Church, along with the movement Gandhi established in India. For those of us in position of power (and because of race we all have some privileges), it’s hard to comprehend the idea of non-violent resistance. But based on this passage, it appears Peter would have agreed with the concept. After all, he tells slaves to obey even harsh and unjust masters. 

In an article in the Christian Century in 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr, then a young pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, laid out his theory. Non-violent resistance was an alternative to armed revolt, something King hoped to avoid and mostly did until his death. Nonviolence, King points out, is not for cowards. It’s resistance to an oppressive system and takes a whole lot more courage not to strike back. Furthermore, such resistance doesn’t seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent. You direct your resistance against the system, not against individuals caught within the system. Finally, it avoids not only physical resistance, but also the internal violence within the spirit of the resistor.[4]

An example of not striking back

When I was in high school, I thought I might want to join the military. I went with a group of students to Camp Lejeune. We watched Marines go through advance infantry training. In this one area, they had to crawl under barbed wire for a couple hundred feet. A few feet above the barbed wire whizzed bullets shot out of several mounted gun emplacements. If you stayed under the wire, you were fine. There were also some bunkers which were easy to avoid. Occasionally they explored and sprayed sand over the crawling Marines. I was ready to run and crawl through this obstacle. It looked like fun. Sadly, that wasn’t an option as we were only observers. 

But there was one Marine who freaked out. He was scared and didn’t want to do it. His Drill Instructor was in his face yelling and spraying spit as he said all kind of nasty things. The Marine tried to run away while holding his rifle at port arms. I saw this and thought, if he said that to me, that sergeant might end up with my rifle butt embedded in his head. As soon as I thought this, I knew if that had been the case, I’d be in the brig. It was about this point I decided I probably didn’t need to enlist. 

Peter, a fellow sufferer 

When Peter, a fellow Christian, writes this letter, he’s doing it as a brother to those saints in Asia Minor as well as a Christian who will continue to suffer abuse. There is something important for us to understand. Peter’s words wouldn’t have had any meaning if they had been written by a master or someone in authority. His influence comes not from being in authority but suffering as they suffer and as Christ suffered. Martin Luther King recognizes this, as he points out in another article: 

When the white power structure calls upon the Negro to reject violence but does not impose upon itself the task of creating necessary social change, it is in fact asking for submission to injustice. Nothing in the theory of nonviolence counsels this suicidal course.[5]

Taking this passage out of context

Sadly, this passage like others, throughout history, have been taken out of context and used by those in power to keep others in submission. That’s a misinterpretation. If Peter had been writing this letter to those who were oppressors, he’d written a much different message. He’d be more like Jeremiah, calling for justice. That’s why I stress our need to understand this passage from the point of view of its original readers and not to be too quick to adapt it to our purposes. After all, if we learn one thing in Scripture, it’s not about us. It’s about God! 

Applying this passage to our lives

So how do we apply this passage to our lives since none of us are slaves except to Christ? Certainly, we should obey those in authority. When things get out of hand, we can rejoice that we live with a system of government that allows us to redress injustices. 

As Christians, we need to be setting a good example. We should obey the law if it does not go against the teachings of Jesus. This includes traffic laws. Don’t be seen with an “I Love Jesus” bumper sticker if you’re speeding, cutting in and out of traffic, or ignoring stop signs. That’s not the best witness, although it may be a way to reconnect face-to-face with Jesus sooner than expected. 

While our kingdom is not of this world, we should show respect for those who work for the kingdoms of the world. We honor those in political offices, even those for whom we didn’t vote. I know this is hard. I have been guilty of failing to honor those I dislike. We hear the rhetoric of political commentators and get whipped up into a frenzy. But we can disagree without belittling. Followers of our humble Savior from Galilee should be at the forefront of showing the rest of the world a different way to express our differences. 

Furthermore, we should also rejoice in the second part of this passage. Because of Christ’s sufferings, our sins are forgiven. We’re free from sin’s bondage. Peter, however, wants to make sure we don’t take or misuse our freedom.[6] As followers of Jesus, we realize there will be bumps in the road. And when those bumps happen, we shouldn’t get mad or try to get even. Instead, as strange as it sounds, we should rejoice, for we are following in Jesus’ footsteps. 

Remembering those who suffer today

And finally, we should remember our brothers and sisters in this world who are more akin to Peter’s audience—those who are marginalized, isolated, and persecuted. We need to be willing to stand with them, to pray for them, and to call out for justice on their behalf. Amen. 

[1] Joel B. Green, I Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 70-71.

[2] Jesus told Peter this would be his situation later in his life. As a young man, he did what he wanted, but when he was older he would be dragged to where he did not want to go.  See John 21:18-19.

[3] I was reminded of photos of these events by Scott Hoezee in his commentary on this passage in the archives for the “Center for Excellence in Preaching. 

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr. “Nonviolence and Racial Justice,” The Christian Century as quoted in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., James M. Washington, editor (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), 7-8. 

[5] King, “Negroes are not Moving too Fast,” Testament of Hope, 179-180.

[6] See last week’s sermon: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/02/05/loving-our-persecutors/

Early morning photo of Buffalo Mountain taken on Feb. 8, 2023. Photo taken by Jeff Garrison
Buffalo Mountain in the morning, February 8, 2023


Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 5, 2022
1 Peter 2:11-17

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, February 3, 2023

Before the reading of the Scripture

We are now entering the center part of Peter’s letter, where he creates a framework for his readers to live out their lives faithful to Jesus in a hostile world.  Essentially, Peter advises his readers to take the high road. They may be marginalized people, but don’t fight back. We should remind ourselves, that in both the Old and New Testaments, we’re told that vengeance belongs to God, not us.[1]

Living in a paradox

We live in a tension between the world upon which we walk and the kingdom that is not of this world where we are citizens. In a way, it’s a paradox. We respect earthly leaders, but we also realize our true loyalty is not to them or to a flag or a country. Our true loyalty is to God whose love for us is shown in Jesus Christ. God creates and owns the earth.[2] We’re just given temporary residence here. We’re honor those in power on earth, Peter tells us, for the Lord’s sake. Or, as The Message translation has it, “Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens.” 

Read 1 Peter 2:11-17


In the mid-90s, in the down-on-its-luck Upstate South Carolina town of Laurens, John Howards, a white supremacist, brought the boarded-up movie theater across from the courthouse.  He renovated the property and opened a museum celebrating the Ku Klux Klan. The “attraction” also featured a small gift shop, and a meeting place. He hoped to attract people into his movement. 

Helping Howards was a troubled young man named Michael Burden. Howard essentially adopted Burden, helping him to get his life back on track. In opposition to their work was David Kennedy, an African-American pastor of the New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church. 

But there is a twist to this story. Burden marries a young woman who had two children. She was also suspicious of Howard and critical of the Klan and encourages her new husband to make a break. He does, but since he lived in a house owned by Howard, he now finds himself and his family locked out. Homeless and broke, who will come to his aid? Surprisingly, Kennedy, the pastor of the African-American church, shows up. He sees to it that Burden, his wife, and her children have a place to stay, food to eat, and clothes to wear. 

Loving our enemy

The story sounds almost too good to be true. Does anyone really love their enemies in such a way? The preacher’s deeds cause him to receive much grief within his congregation. Members couldn’t believe their pastor helps a man who’d belonged to the Klan. But as one who takes the Bible seriously, Kennedy stuck to his guns and helps Burden and his new family navigate this difficult time in their lives.[3]  

Wonder why Jesus calls us to help those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us?[4] Do we really want to help such people? Isn’t that aiding the enemy? Some call that treason. As Christians, the road we travel is not easy.  Peter understands this.

The world is not our home

Our passage begins with the Apostle reminding his readers that this world is not their home. They are aliens, they are in exile. But just because this world isn’t their home, they shouldn’t just do what they want. This isn’t a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” type of world. We must guard ourselves, our souls. Furthermore, if we take the high road, others may see our “good deeds” and come to understand there is something special about faith and be drawn to God through us. 

Early Christian evangelism

Peter describes the type of evangelism common in the early Christian era. Back then, Christians didn’t hand out tracks or, from what we know, knock on doors. They didn’t hold massive rallies or run a PR campaign. Instead, they allowed others to see what they were about by how they lived. Christians didn’t just look out for themselves. People took notice when they saw the early church being concerned for others, especially those unable to help themselves. 

Even though the world considered these early Christians evildoers, when they saw their good deeds, at least some reconsidered such categorizations of Christians. “Let your light shine,” Jesus says.[5]

Demonizing those seen as different

You know, the world hasn’t changed that much. Why do you think Christians were seen as evil doers or condemned as atheists in the first century church? Why? Because they were different. When people are different from us, sadly, we often categorize them in a negative manner. We devalue them, or even more dangerously, we see them as less valuable. On the extreme end, as it was with Nazism or even with our ancestors with their treatment of Native Americans or African slaves, we view them as less than human. That’s dangerous. 

If we take the Bible seriously, we can’t do that because we are reminded that all of us have been created in God’s image.[6]Furthermore, as Paul points out in his letter to these same people, the church doesn’t consist of just who you see sitting inside buildings this morning, but those of all races and sexes and gender who believe in Jesus Christ.[7]

God’s temple 

As we saw last week, Peter says something similar when we talk about us being stones shunned by the world, but God brings us all together to create a new temple on earth.[8] The old temple was soon to be gone.[9] The church, of which we’re all a part, is now God’s temple on earth. 

Role of those in authority

Peter continues this section by encouraging his readers to honor those in authority. Those with power, whether they are emperor or an elected representative, are used by God to help maintain peace and avoid chaos. Unlike today, those with power were not in the churches to whom Peter wrote. 

How to live as a persecuted minority

Nonetheless, they were to do their parts to honor and obey the laws of the state, just as they were to work for the benefit of everyone. Peter does not allow his readers to hide. They are to make the best of the situation in which they live, not just for themselves but for everyone. Like Jeremiah writing to those hauled off into exile, they are to seek the welfare of where they’re at.[10]

Like Paul, Peter speaks of the freedom we have in Christ. But he also reminds us that we should not take advantage of such freedom but use it to serve God and not to break the rules.[11]

God wants us to be good, which means that we strive to be helpful wherever we find ourselves.  And while Peter provides advice on how they, a minority community on fringe of society, are to get by, he sows seeds that will eventually challenge the pecking order of the Roman Empire. Yes, they’re to honor and respect and be subjected to the emperor. But then, Peter says, everyone is to be honored. The emperor is not that special after all. For even the emperor on this throne, as powerful as he was, sits below God.[12]

Allegiance only to God

Our ultimate allegiance is to God. Yes, we should honor those elected to political offices, as well as those who serve the public good like police officers and sheriff deputies. But we don’t deify them. Nor should we overlook their mistakes or shortcomings. We honor them because God allows them their position of power so that they might help maintain order and to help society flourish.  

A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount

This portion of Peter’s letter could be an expanded commentary on Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about loving your enemies and praying for your persecutors. The type of love Jesus calls us to show is agape, which means we look out for the best interest of the other.[13]

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said he was glad God told us to love our enemies instead of telling us we had to like them.[14] There’s probably an important distinction here. What can we do the make this world a better place. That’s what we’re called to do, no matter where we find ourselves and no matter how much we like or dislike others. 

Let me close with a story.

The Battle of Shiloh

At the battle Shiloh, one of the bloodiest in the Civil War, Albert Sidney Johnston, the southern general who commanded the western troops of the Confederacy, saw many wounded Union soldiers on one part of the battlefield. According to Shelby Foote, a Civil War historian, he told his surgeon to treat them. His surgeon questioned the command since the battle was still ongoing and Johnston might need his help. Johnston insisted, giving him a direct order to tend to the wounded enemy soldiers. 

Later that afternoon, a bullet struck Johnston in the leg. He bled to death. Had his surgeon been at his side, he could have probably been saved. Instead, he became the highest-ranking officer of both sides to die in battle in the American Civil War.[15]


As I discussed last week, the Christian life requires us to have Jesus’ eyes. We’re to see people as Jesus sees us and do what we can to help one another. It may require taking a risk. Certainly, Peter’s readers took a risk, as did General Johnston and Pastor Kennedy. But then God took a risk on us by coming to us in the life of Jesus.  Amen. 

[1] Leviticus 19:18, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30.

[2] Psalm 24:1.

[3] This story has been made into a movie and is told in a book. See Courtney Hargrave, Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South (New York: Convergent Books, 2018). For my review of the book, click here or go to:  https://fromarockyhillside.com/2019/03/06/burden-a-preacher-a-klansman-and-a-true-story-of-redemption-in-the-modern-south/

[4] Matthew 5:43-44.

[5] Matthew 6:15.

[6] Genesis 1:27.  See John P. Burgess’ essay, “Facing the World,” in After Baptism: Shaping the Christian Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2005), 95-117. 

[7] Galatians 3:28. Galatia was one of the churches to whom Peter has addressed this letter. See 1 Peter 1:1.

[8] See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/01/29/humbled-but-valued/  

[9][9] The Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, probably just before or just after this letter was written. 

[10] Jeremiah 29:7.

[11] See 1 Peter 2:13-17, The Message translation. 

[12] Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007). 279ff. 

[13] Matthew 5:43-48.  

[14] This paraphrased quote came from the preacher at the recent Martin Luther King, Jr’s Service at Hillsville Christian Church on January 15, 2023. 

[15] Shelby Foote, Shiloh (1952, Vintage, 1991), 199.

Morning light (January 29, 2023

Humbled but Valued

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
January 29, 2023
I Peter 2:1-10

Sermon recorded on Friday, January 27, 2023 at Mayberry Church

At the beginning of worship: 

Last week, I began by discussing humility. I will again hit on this topic in today’s service, as it is a major them in Peter’s first letter. Christians are to be humble, because we give God the credit and realize that without the help of the Almighty, we would be nothing.

The great 19th Century British Calvinist Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, writing about our work in helping others discover the grace found in Jesus Christ, said:

Humility makes you feel that you are nothing and nobody and that, if God gives you success in that work, you will be driven to ascribe to Him all the glory for none of the credit of it could properly belong to you.[1]

I only partly agree with Spurgeon on this. Yes, God’s grace should make all Christians humble. On that, we agree. However, God’s grace shouldn’t make us feel as if we are nothing or nobody. We are somebody, for God has claimed us. We are a member of God’s family and that’s more than enough to make us something. However, it also means we need to give God the credit. Scripture reminds us of this. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.”[2]And to the Corinthians he wrote, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”[3] We’re here today to give God the glory. 

Before reading the Scripture:

Before reading the scripture for today, let me summarize where we’ve come in this letter. In the first chapter of 1st Peter, we saw how Peter addressed his audience with a blessing that reminds them of God’s work in their lives. And while the term “Trinity” wasn’t used in first century Christianity, Peter hits on all three members of the Trinity. We’ve been chosen by God the father, sanctified by the Spirit, and sprinkled with Jesus’ blood. Then Peter reminds the reader of their living hope in Jesus Christ (my sermon from two weeks ago).[4] Because of our hope, he calls us to live holy lives (my sermon last week).[5]

First verse

As we begin the second chapter, I debated whether to attach the first verse with last week’s sermon or this week. The verse reminds us of what we’re “cleansing ourselves of” as we strive for holiness. But it also goes with the verses following as we consider our calling by Christ into the Christian life where considered a part of the chosen race, commissioned as priests, naturalized as citizens in the holy nation, and considered God’s own people.[6]  

Read 1 Peter 2:1-10  

There are three things I want you to take from this passage. First, the importance of the church, the body of Christ. Second, the reason why we are called into this body, which is to glorify God. And finally, the impact our calling by God should have on our lives and how we relate to others. 

Avoid sins that break unity

As I mentioned before reading the scriptures, the first verse could go either with the previous chapter or this one. Part of this is the limitations created by chapter and verse numbers, which were not a part of the Scriptures until centuries after the Bible was completed. To show you two ways of understanding this verse, the New Revised Standard version places it clearly with the opening of the second chapter as they title the first ten verses, “The Living Stone and the Chosen People.” However, if you look at the Revised Common Lectionary, which I seldom follow, you will see when this passage comes up, they skip the last two verses of chapter 1 and begin Chapter 2 with verse 2.[7]

This opening verse, as I said before reading the scripture, addresses what’s important for us to rid ourselves of if we’re to live holy lives. Interestingly, however, the sins which are mentioned at this point in the letter are not what we might think of as most important. 

Peter discourages sins that break unity

Peter doesn’t address here what we might rate as the top ten individual sins. He doesn’t say to be honest in your business dealings or faithful in your relationships, or no violence. There’s no mention of avoiding immoral or illegal behavior… Peter will touch on some of those issues later in this letter.[8] But here, first, he harps on community-destroying vices. As one commentor on the passage points out, these are the type of sins “often tolerated by the modern church.” He wants his readers (including us) to avoid actions that cause bickering and division within the church. He knows persecution can strain the fellowship. So, he first insists we do our part to help the church remain united in God’s mission by avoiding malice and guile (or hypocrisy), insincerity, envy, and slander.[9]

Spiritual milk

Following this, Peter reminds us of our need of pure, spiritual milk. We must start off with what’s essential, as an infant begins its nourishment with only milk. This is a familiar metaphor in the New Testament Epistles, but Peter also must have had in mind Psalm 34, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”[10] We discover God’s goodness, which leaves us wanting more.

Coming to Christ, the living stone

The heart of this passage begins in verse 4, where he encourages his readers to come to Christ the living stone. Like Christ, society may reject us. As I’ve pointed out over the past two weeks, Peter’s audience found themselves rejected and on the outskirts of society. While society may reject us, we should remember that we are precious in God’s sight. As living stones ourselves, Christ collects and builds us into a spiritual house.

Stone Churches and this passage

I can’t read these verses without thinking about these stone-walled churches in which we worship here along the Parkway. Here again, we find an image of the importance of the body, the fellowship. Before these rocks were used to create these churches, they laid despised in fields. After all, they might be just below surface and at a place where they could nick a plow blade. In digging, they meant one had to lay aside the shovel and get out an iron bar to break up the stone. 

But as the members of these churches, who are now mostly gone, collected those “hated stones” out of their fields, they were brought here and mortared into these walls. Here, when combined with many other stones from other fields, they collectively serve a useful function. But when laying on or in the ground, a single stone might cause us to trip. Like the stones, when collected, we are much safer together than being alone where we (and because of us, others) might stumble. 

A Church of stoners?

On a side note, if you need to advertise our church to someone out on the margins of society, you can tell them that we’re a church of stoners… Of course, Peter uses such illustration long before it was adopted by hippies and those strung out on drugs. If you want to make such a suggestion, be sure to also refer to this passage, so they won’t get the wrong idea. 

The Cornerstone

Don’t be offended that Peter suggests we’re stones or rocks, for he also includes Christ in this grouping. Drawing upon Psalm 118:22, a verse quoted more often by Peter and Paul than any other verse in the Hebrew Bible,[11] Peter reminds us of that Christ is the cornerstone. The cornerstone, the most important stone in a building from which the walls are based, is Christ. 

And I’m sure Peter would include himself in this for the Savior changed his name from Simon to Peter, declaring that “on this rock I will build my church.”[12]

We are somebody!

Peter begins to conclude this section of the letter with a bold proclamation. We are, as he writes in verse 9, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” I love the affirmation! Returning to my opening remarks from Charles Spurgeon. Yes, we’re to be humble, but we are somebody because of what God has done for us. God calls us out of darkness and into the marvelous light and we’re to rejoice in what we’ve experienced. 

An ancient poem

In verse 10, Peter closes out this section with an ancient poem that reiterates what he just said.[13] “Once you were not a people, but now you’re God’s people…” The ancient Roman world was a caste society where everyone had their place. And if you were on the bottom rung of society’s ladder, you didn’t have many rights. But the gospel disturbed that order. The church didn’t see Roman citizenship as the end all. Instead, it was the citizenship into God’s kingdom that mattered. And in that kingdom, everyone is important, not just citizens or senators or Caesar.[14]  

The mosaic that makes up these rock-walled churches is beautiful. But the mosaic that makes up the church, the inclusion of us all, is even more beautiful because we’re all a part of the only kingdom that matters in eternity. 

Conclusion: how we should live

So, how should we live because of Peter’s writings? In our “Centered and Soaring” discipleship training we held back in November, one of the concepts taught was having “Jesus’ Eyes.” We’re to see others as Jesus sees them. This is a powerful concept that should cause us to have empathy for others and free us from reacting to what we may take as an affront. 

We don’t know what others endure, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Someone cuts you off in traffic, you let it go. Yeah, they may be a jerk, but they might also be rushing someone to the hospital. We don’t know, so we let them go. It may be humbling, but that’s what we’re called to do. 

Everyone is created by God, in God’s image, so we treat them others than they treat us. It’s hard, but that’s how true disciples try to live. That’s the challenge we have before us. Use your eyes to see others the same way Jesus see’s us and them. Amen. 

[1] Charles Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1895), 47. Quoted in Christopher A. Hutchinson, Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up is Down (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 193.

[2] Philippians 4:4. 

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:31.

[4] 1 Peter 1:3-12. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/01/15/the-opening-of-first-peter/

[5] I Peter 1:13-25. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/01/22/6254/

[6] 1 Peter 2:9.

[7] The Revised Common Lectionary is on a three-year cycle in which it attempts to “hit” the major themes in scripture, but not all the Bible. This year, on April 23, will have 1 Peter 1:17-23. Then on April 30, it will jump to 1 Peter 2:19-25, only to jump back on May 7 to 1 Peter 2:2-10. The lectionary omits 1 Peter 1:24 to 1 Peter 2:1  Commentaries also divide this passage up in different ways. 

[8] See 1 Peter 2:11-12.

[9] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 80.

[10] Psalm 34:8. For milk as a metaphor for basic Christian teaching see1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and Hebrews 5:13. 

[11] See Scott Hoezee, “Commentary on 1 Peter 2:2-10, https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2017-05-08/1-peter-22-10

[12]  Matthew 16:17-19.

[13] Davids, 93. 

[14] See Joel B. Green, “Aliens and Strangers in the World: A Contextual Theology,” in 1 Peter: The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 191-197. 

Hope in the future, but there’s work in the meantime

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
January 22, 2023
1 Peter 1:13-25

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, January 20, 2022

At the beginning of worship: 

Are you humble? What I if told you that humility is at the heart of the gospel, would you believe it? As one author writes, “Christian discipleship cannot be supplemented with a dash of humility for flavor but must have humility as the main ingredient.”[1] Because of what God has done and is doing for us through Jesus Christ, Christians are to be humble and gentle people. 

Before reading the Scripture:

Today, we’re continuing with our look at 1st Peter. As I said last week, I’m preaching out of this book through Lent. First Peter is “not a course for inquirers,” nor does it give us a “comprehensive exposition of the faith,” one scholar wrote. Instead, this book is written for those who understand the basic truth of the gospel.[2] Peter’s hopes to encourage those of the faith who are marginalized in the pagan world. He reminds them of the hope they have in the future as well as their marching orders in the present.

 C. S. Lewis once said that “it is safe to tell the pure in heart that they will see God, for only the pure in heart would want to [see God].”[3]Although Peter mentions our call to holiness and the hope we have in life everlasting, he doesn’t bribe his readers into good behavior with the promise of heaven. Nor does he try to incite fear in them to get them to clean up their act. Instead, he assumes their goal is to see God. Heaven is their true home; therefore, he reminds them of God’s promises as he encourages them to remain faithful.  

Read 1 Peter 1:12-25.

The Late Great Planet Earth

When I was in high school, I read Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. The book had a profound and long-lasting impact on me. In the short-run, it caused me to be nervous about how long the world was going to last; in the long-run it fueled my interest in the Scriptures as well as how people can find wild interpretations in the Bible. Although Lindsey doesn’t come out and give a date for Christ’s return, he certainly hints it would be soon—like in the mid-1980s, within 40 years of 1948. As I read this book in the mid-70s, it didn’t look like we had much time. 

Was 1988 the year?

Obviously, if I interpret Lindsey’s correctly, he was wrong even though once in 1988 I wondered. I was in the check out line at a K-mart in Carson City, Nevada. A woman came into the store and at the top of her lungs shouted: “Thus says the Lord.” Everything stopped. We all turned and looked at this lady. She continued, identifying Ronald Reagan (who at the time was winding up his last year as President) as the anti-Christ and warning us the end was at hand. As soon as she finished, she turned and walked out, not providing time for questions. All of us—cashiers and customers—stood stunned. Did she know something we didn’t. Obviously, not.  

Signs in the sky

One summer in high school, shortly after reading The Late Great Planet Earth, I became convinced the end was here. It had been a stormy day with numerous thunderstorms sweeping through the region. Early in the evening, as the last storm cleared, that fiery globe we know as the sun dropped below the horizon. Although the sun was not visible, its rays stuck the clouds in a way that everything turned blood red. It was eerie. I should have enjoyed the moment. But instead of being in awe at God’s creation, I thought the end was at hand. I pointed out the sky to my mother. She thought it beautiful and didn’t seem concerned, so I went into my room and prayed. 

Obviously, I was wrong, the world didn’t end. Since that time, I have learned to appreciate such special spectacular displays as a blessing from God instead of a sign of impending doom.

Why do we worry when the end will come?

There appears to be something about us as humans that make us curious about the future. That’s why so many books are written about the second coming, but it doesn’t stop there. After all, we pay consultants to predict what’s going to happen to the economy and to tell us where to invest our money—that is if we have any left after buying groceries.

Think about other ways we try to learn of the future. In many places, foretelling and palm reading appear to be a cottage industry. All you need is a quaint older home, a plywood sign, and something other than a basketball into which to gaze. The Farmer’s Almanac has been around for centuries, supposedly informing what the weather will be in the coming year. Most primitive religions have shamans, whose role is to predict the future. However, scripture is clear. The future is for God to know, not us.[4]

Peter’s audience: those without control

However, we want to know and to have some control over the future. It may have been no different for Peter’s audience. But in a way, Peter’s audience didn’t have much control over anything. As I explained last week, they have been alienated from society, who ironically thought of the Christians as atheists. They are, in a sense, homeless people. They don’t fit, a problem that the church faced for the first several centuries. 

The church after Constantine

After a few centuries things did change. Thanks to Emperor Constantine, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity and the church moved into the center of power. It’s been a rocky road ever since… 

Story about Francis of Assisi

To illustrate this, let me share with a legend of Francis of Assisi. This humble disciple was supposedly once given a tour of the Vatican by the Pope. According to legend, when the Pope showed Francis the papal treasury, he couldn’t help but brag. Referring to the story in Acts 3 with Peter and John at the temple, the Pope said: “No longer do I need to say to a poor beggar, silver and gold I have none.”   

“True,” Francis said, “but neither can you say, ‘stand up and walk.”[5]When the church became successful and powerful and rich, we lost the ability to trust and depend upon God. It became too easy to depend upon our own abilities, a battle we fight to this day.

Resident Aliens

One book that has been eye-opening to my entire ministry is Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. The book was published during my last year in seminary, and I first read it shortly afterwards. The authors point to how the church became a supporting institute to western culture. 

By the way, they are critical of both the conservative and the liberal expression of the faith. They see both as the opposite side of the same coin, focusing on the political process. In other words, both talk about what we can do to change the world. Instead of calling for a church that’s foremost task is to change society, they call for a “confessing church,” whose purpose is to worship Christ and to determine how to live as followers of Jesus in a hostile world. For you see, our call does not come from society but from the Lord and it’s to him that we’re to be faithful. 

Hawerwas and Willimon see the “Confessing Church” as a church on a journey as its members, resident aliens, strive to know God. [6] This sounds a lot like the church Peter addresses, don’t you think?

Opening conjunctive

Our text for this morning opens with the conjunctive, “Therefore.” When you see such a word, you should go back and review what’s been said. He also shifts to the imperative.[7] Essentially Peter says, “because of what I said (what we covered last week), do this.” While our salvation depends on God, we are still expected to work with God as we strive for holiness. 

This “therefore” is followed by the command that we prepare our minds for action. But the Greek here translates more literally, “grid up your minds for work.” This creates an image of one rolling up their tunic as they prepare to go into the field to labor. We are not to spend our time just waiting for Jesus to return. Instead, we are to be busy, doing his work. Peter began this letter reminding his readers of their hope, now he moves on to our relationship to God as “obedient children.”[8]

On a journey to God

Peter sees us on a journey. We’re not home yet; we’re not home till Jesus arrives. But while we’re waiting, we’re to be busy doing his work. Our foremost task, with God’s help, is to strive for holiness. That’s the standard set for followers of Jesus. 

Striving for holiness goes against popular goal setting theory which says you set achievable goals. This is a goal we can never achieve on our own, but then that’s the message. We must depend on him, on our Savior, on the one who sacrificially gave his life for our lives. Our hope is in Christ, who paid the price for our redemption. Because of what Christ has done for us, we are to live for him.

God as a parent

Peter describes our relationship with God as that of a child relating to his or her father. As children obey parents, we are called to obey God. We’re also to fear God, but not in a terrifying fear that one might have of a vengeful God, but in the respectful fear that we might have of our parents. This is the type of fear that kept me from racing my dad’s car because I didn’t want to tell him I wrapped it around a pine tree. Such fear is good—it keeps us in line, but it also helps us to stand in awe of God and his power and glory. 

We don’t have to fear earthly masters

One scholar, recalling the precarious existence of Peter’s audience, suggests they’d understood his message as “Christians don’t have to fear their temporary masters [here on earth] because they fear God.”[9]Jesus says something very similar: “Do not fear those who can kill the body…, rather fear him that can destroy both the body and soul.”[10]Such an attitude puts things in perspective. Because God is good, instead of seeing our fear as binding, we should see that it frees us to be in awe of God’s glory.

An imperishable seed

Our passage closes with a reminder that this new life we have as Christians is born, not of a perishable seed, but an imperishable one. While Peter quotes Isaiah 40 (the grass withers, the flower fades), we’re reminded that our hope is grounded in God who has saved us eternally. But this doesn’t mean we can brag about the state of our souls. Because of what God has done for us, we can’t be prideful. Instead, such knowledge provides us hope and humbles us as we love God and our neighbors.[11] Amen.  

[1] Christopher A. Hutchinson, Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up is Down (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 31.

[2] David L. Tiede, “An Easter Catechesis: The Lessons of 1 Peter,” Word & World (St. Paul, MN: Luther Northwest Seminary, 1984). 194.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain as quoted by Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck in A Guide to Prayer (Nashville: The Upper Room, 1983), 151.

[4] In a sermon I gave a year ago (using Jesus’ words and Saul striving to learn of his future), I tried to make this message clear. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/01/remain-at-your-post-stay-awake/

[5] See Acts 3:1-10. This story has been told in many places. It probably isn’t factual but certainly illustrates Truth in a capital “T” sense. 

[6] Stanley Hauwerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989), 36-46. 

[7] Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 33.

[8] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 65. 

[9] Tiede, 197.  Tiede is quoting Gerhard Krodel, “The First Letter of Peter,” Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, Revelation by Fuller, Sloyan, Krodel, Danker, & Fiorenza (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), 74.

[10] Matthew 10:28.

[11] See Hutchinson, 94. 

The destination may be blurred, but the road is sure…

The Opening of First Peter

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches
January 15, 2023
First Peter 1:1-12

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, January 13, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

This week I finished reading Miroslav Volf’s A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Seve the Common Good. It’s a short but a deep book that deals with the paradox we have as Christians, living in a world but not being of the world.[1] Volf spends a whole chapter on the topic, “human flourishing,” which he begins, “Hope, in a Christian sense, is love stretching itself into the future.”[2] I like that.

For the next three months, I will work through in my sermons First Peter, a beautiful letter written to marginalized Christians in the first century. We may think, at times, we have it bad. But consider being a follower of Jesus in a time when the world truly hates you? How would we live? Where do we place our hope? Peter encourages his readers to have a living hope in the future.[3] Sounds a lot like Volf’s thesis, doesn’t it?

Before reading the Scripture:

Addressed to a group of churches in what we now know as the country of Turkey, First Peter was penned in the last quarter of the first century. The letter encourages these churches as they strive to live as followers of Jesus in a hostile world. For this reason, we find applications that apply to our lives as we strive to follow Jesus in a world that is often indifferent. 

The return address on the letter is Peter’s. There is debate among scholars as to whether it was written by Peter the fisherman (if so, he most likely had some help with his Greek grammar). Or, as was often done in the ancient world, was the letter written by one who admired Peter and therefore attached the apostle’s name. 

Confusing things even more, the letter doesn’t go into details of Peter’s life other than to say he’s an Apostle. Instead, it focuses on the life within the recipient community,[4] so whether Peter pinned these words or dictated them, doesn’t much matter. Finally, let me say that this letter follows a familiar correspondence format, as does many of Paul’s letters. Today we’ll look at the introduction and opening. 

Read 1st Peter 1:1-12.

I woke precisely at 6 A.M. The radio came to life with the Star-Spangled Banner. KIKX returned to the airways with its whooping 58 watts of power dedicated to covering the Wood River Valley. It was the only station that I could pick up in the valley. During the summer of 1988, I depended on it as an alarm clock. I went to sleep with the radio on at night, as the station went off at midnight. In the morning, I’d be rousted out of bed with patriotic furor. 

Normally, I jumped out of bed, dressed quickly, and headed down to the lodge. There I started a fire in the potbellied stove to knock the chill out of the air. In the Idaho mountains, it could be quite chilly in the early morning hours, even during the summer. But on this day, I was not too quick to jump out of bed. I was fearful of what was ahead. I laid there, warm under the covers, listening to the national anthem, and then the news and the weather. Although it was in the mid-30s at camp, the temperature in the desert to the south would spike above 100 that afternoon.  

It was Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, my last day for the season at camp. In the kitchen, the cooks prepared the last meal of the season for the few of us who were still on site. Over a cup of coffee, we talked and laughed about the summer. But inside, my stomach churned. I thought about leaving the familiar setting of camp and heading for the unknowns of Nevada. 

I’d taken a break from seminary to devote a year serving as a student pastor for small church in Virginia City, Nevada. I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a naive seminarian, Nevada appeared a den of iniquity. Saloons and casinos never closed. Gambling and prostitution were readily available. What was I getting myself into.? 

The following afternoon I made it up the windy road to Virginia City. I told you a month ago about the nail in my tire as I drove across the desert.[5] But I made it without any other issues. I parked in front of the rickety white wooden church C Street. The doors were locked. For a few moments I stood on the porch, looking down Six-mile Canyon toward a rock formation known as Sugarloaf.[6] There were plenty of people on the streets, but no one seemed to notice me. Everyone assumed I was just another tourist.

A couple minutes later, I headed down the boardwalk to the Bucket of Blood, a saloon where I had been instructed to pick up the keys for the church and for the little house where I would live. It seemed a little odd for my first task to call on a place named the Bucket of Blood. The sun warmed the air. Although the peak of the tourist season was over, sightseers on C Street still vied for the slot machines standing just inside the establishments adjacent to the boardwalk. The noise of the electronic bandits and the smell of the sausage dogs and spilt beer overwhelmed me. What was I getting myself into?

It’s hard for me now to think about how I felt when I first went to Virginia City. I was nervous. I didn’t gamble. I’d never been in a casino. The idea of legalized prostitution seemed barbaric. It still does. While I’ll occasionally have a drink, the thought of having alcohol available 24 hours a day was unsettling. Furthermore, I’d never lived in a place where, on any given Sunday, only a handful of folks would be in church. I was nervous as to what I’d signed up for. 

Living there forced me to think hard about what it means to follow Jesus. Many times, there and even here, being faithful to Jesus means we must live differently than the society in which we find ourselves.

In the first sentence of Peter’s letter, we learn that its intended recipients are “exiles from the Dispersion.” Now the Dispersion refers to those Jews who lived, at this time in history, throughout the Mediterranean region. After Babylon, Jewish enclaves were established through that part of the world and, as we know from early church history, Paul and Peter and other Apostles were often able to find a receptive ear in these communities. 

Think about Paul’s travels in Acts, his first place to visit in a new city was often the synagogue.[7] But Peter isn’t writing to those in the synagogue, instead he’s writing to those who have been exiled or booted out of the synagogue. In a religious sense, these are marginalized people. Because they are followers of Jesus, they find themselves exiled even from the synagogue community that was, in a sense, exiled.[8]

Now think about the world in which they lived. Most of their neighbors worshipped the ancient gods as well as Caesar. For them, God in the flesh was the emperor in Rome. If you lived in this world, you were expected to pay homage to the gods and to Caesar, the one loophole being that you were a Jew. Then, provided you weren’t causing trouble, you could worship the God of Israel. As the early Christians found themselves no longer a part of the Jewish minority, they had nowhere to go. Shunned, they were considered atheist as they worshipped an unseen God. 

But there is good news to these “twice-shunned” believers. Peter, with language that carries overtones of predestination, reminds them that they have been chosen and destined by God. So even though they may feel like out-casts, and are persecuted, God is with them. Furthermore, they’re sanctified by the Spirit and have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, the one to whom they are obedient. Peter, in the first sentence, packs in the theology. He mentions all three members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. He speaks of God’s gracious sovereignty, Jesus’ atonement, and our need for sanctification by the Spirit. Peter wants them to understand that they haven’t saved themselves; their salvation is grounded in God.

Then, in verse 3, Peter lays out the hope they have in Jesus Christ. In the Greek, this is all one long run-on sentence, going all the way to verse 12.[9] Luckily, for us, most translators break the sentence into smaller chunks. In this super-sentence, Peter acknowledges the trouble his readers face, the trials they endure, but reminds them that their inheritance. Hold on, be obedient to Jesus, for it is in him that we have hope. Even though it may not always seem like it, God’s with them, and their future is bright.  

Now, let’s face it, whatever tribulations we face today are nothing when compared to what Christians in the first three centuries faced. Furthermore, we in America have no idea what Christians in other parts of the world must endure today. Think of Christian in Pakistan, China, India, North Korea, Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia. 

But even if we do face persecution, we must remember that our first loyalty as a disciple of Jesus is to him, the one in whom we have our hope. And what does Jesus call us to do? We’re called to be the salt of the earth, to love God and to love our neighbor, and to love even our enemies.[10] Are we doing that?

In the last three verses of this section, Peter recalls the work of the Old Testament prophets, those who foretold what God was doing and the Messiah to come. Peter notes that they did not serve themselves, but were in a sense serving those, like Peter’s audience, who experienced such grace. It pleased the prophets to do God’s work for the benefit for future generations. And in a way those suffering for Jesus, to whom this letter was addressed, worked on our behalf. We are their beneficiaries, and we’re to benefit those who follow us.  

So, what does Jesus call us to do?  Like those who received this letter, he calls us to be faithful and obedient. We’ll all face challenges. Sometimes the pressure of society will try to lure us away from Jesus. Or we may be lured away from the Jesus of scripture to another form of Jesus, one who is more our image and doesn’t look like the Jesus of the Bible.[11] When this happens, Peter reminds us of what’s important.  

Going back to my fears when I moved to Nevada, I quickly learned that just because bars and casinos remained open 24 hours a day, I didn’t need to take advantage of it. And when I did go inside such a place, moderation was the key. Too much of a good thing can also be bad. And there were places where I shouldn’t’ be seen, and I stayed away. And on Sunday morning, when I put on a suit and walked down the boardwalk to the church, people knew where I was going. Hopefully, by my witness, I planted a few seeds. 

When we are obedient to Christ, we witness to the world a gentle faith that God is in charge, and we’ve placed our hope in his hands. Amen. 

[1] John 15:19.

[2] Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Grand Rapids, MI: Bravos Press, 2011), 55.

[3] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 1990), 52. 

[4] Donald Senior, “First Peter Introduction” in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 2181-2182.

[5] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/12/hope-in-the-desert/  

[6] This view, which I so enjoyed, is no longer available as new construction was built across from the church. During the Bonanza era of the 1870s, the view wasn’t available either, as the Baptist Church (that closed in the 1880s), sat across the street. 

[7] See Acts 13:5, 13:14, 14:1, 17:1, 17:10, 18:4, and 19:8. 

[8] For insight into this community to whom Peter writes, see Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 14-18. Green notes that most of those first reading this letter probably were not Jews, but gentiles. 

[9] Green, 22.

[10] Matthew 5:13, Luke 10:27, and Matthew 5:44.

[11] Those who want to promote a masculine Jesus (aka, Rambo Jesus) or make Jesus into a nationalistic symbol risk creating a Jesus in their own image and not in the image of scripture. 

Virginia City at night during the winter of 1988/1989