Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Baby Stone Sheep! 1 Peter 2

In Summary:

Peter, unlike Paul, does not spend as much time on the theological background issues of his epistle. Instead, as we see in 1 Peter 2:1-3, he comes rapidly to the point of action as he commands his audience to put aside evil actions and words. This is not prefaced with a long instruction about why—Peter gives the “why” after this: “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

He then goes on to summarize the Christian life with three examples. The first is that we are to live as newborns, desiring to feast on the pure Word. The second is to be as stones that are used to build up the house of the Lord Jesus. This is likely done in parallel to Psalm 118 and the references to the rejected stone that became the cornerstone, which Peter applies to Jesus.

(I once heard this related to a story from the construction of Solomon’s Temple, where the builders found that a stone they felt was useless was actually the perfect finishing stone for the building. I can’t find that reference, though, so I offer that as only a faint memory.)

The third parallel with Christian life is at the end of the chapter where we are compared with wandering sheep. We were continually straying, Peter says, but have now returned to our Shepherd. Sheep sometimes wander—especially if they are distracted—and need to be sought out by their shepherd. Fortunately for us, if Peter is right, our Shepherd not only sought us but also took the penalty for our wandering in His own body (1 Peter 2:24).

In Focus:

Peter’s middle segment draws a couple of important points up, and I think I’ll deal with some of it in a separate post. Here, let us put 1 Peter 2:16-17 under our focus. We see a summary command: live as free people, not using freedom for evil, but to serve God.

From that point, Peter develops four commands that express how he expected the believers to do this. Some translations make this verse one long sentence, as the NASB. Others, like ESV, make four sentences. Then there’s the NLT, which makes v. 17 into two sentences.

Which I think suggests a useful possibility for understanding. Look at the verse in ESV:

“Honor everyone.
Love the brotherhood.
Fear God.
Honor the emperor.”

Now, look at the verse in the NLT:

“Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.”

Leaving aside whether it’s appropriate to translate “brotherhood” into “family of believers” or the lesser concern of “king” or “emperor,” look at how the ESV makes a series of commands while the NLT makes a pair of contrasting commands.

The first pairing is that everyone should be respected (or honored,) but the family of faith is deserving of special love. The second suggests that God is worthy of fear, and the king only deserves respect.

This shows the differences in how Christians, as aliens, interact with the world around them. We are not antagonistic toward the wider world, nor towards its rulers. Instead, we respect and honor these as appropriate.

However, our hearts quicken even more as we deal with our folks—the family of of faith, the brotherhood of believers. And our respect for the king never eclipses our reverent fear of the Lord God Almighty.

In Practice:

What does this contrast look like in practice? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Love bears with it a sense of intimacy, while respect and honor do not. My closest struggles and greatest successes should be shared with the family of faith more than the wider world. Likewise, my dearest friends should come from within the household, including those of you who are seeking a spouse. We should develop respectful friendships with anyone—but that deeper love? It has a home.

2. There are times when decisions require prioritizing relationships. While I do respect my completely pacifistic brethren in Christ, I am not from that branch of the family. Instead, I think there is a time that violence is regrettably necessary. And the hierarchy falls along the lines of honoring all but loving the family: I would stand with a weapon between violent people and the children’s department at church. My love for the family overrides my respect for the wider world.

3. This extends to the question of obedience to authorities. My respect for the emperor (used here for any government, not as a comment on the behavior of current American government people) is crucial, but I must fear God above the emperor, putting the needs of the Kingdom of God above the needs of the nation. Therefore, I might pray for a strong dollar to aid mission efforts though it is not better for exporters and the economy. Or I might pray for a longer negotiation with other nations at the cost of national prestige if it allows the spread of the Gospel.

Those are just some examples of how that might look in practice.

In Nerdiness: 

Not a lot of words left for nerdiness—let’s grab a few translation issues.

First, the word NASB renders “aliens” in 2:11 is not the same as the word rendered “aliens” in 1:1. There may be exegetical significance in the difference, and there may not be. 2:11 reflects those who reside away from home while 1:1 has the context of those who reside temporarily out of place. Of interest is that the word rendered “strangers” in 2:11 is the same Greek word as “alien” in 1:1. This is a good example of context driving meaning, and the lack of one-to-one equivalence between languages.

Second, the word rendered “honor” or “respect” in 2:17 is one of those that had shades of meaning even in its own day. It appears to be descended from the Classical Greek word that included “fear,” even though “fear” has its own word, “phobeo,” in Koine Greek. The Classical Greek word figures in the expression of “I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts,” going back to the Trojan War saga.

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