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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 Peter 2

 

 

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Verse 4-5

PETER AND THE CHURCH

‘To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.’

1 Peter 2:4-5

Christ is everything to St. Peter in this Epistle. It is Christ’s resurrection that inspires the hope of rising again above evil and living a good life.

I. Are you crushed with the recollection of a sin into which you fell?—Do you know that the misery is that your best ideal, as it were, of life has entirely been obliterated because you fell into some sin of which you are ashamed, and you grieve over it, and would give anything to blot out that page? St. Peter, with all his tears of repentance, could not blot out the page of the New Testament that tells us he fell. It is there. You sinned. You cannot stop that. It is done, but you can be the better man now; you can rise above it in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; you can find, as he did, as he bids you find, your hope in Christ. Because Christ rose again, you can rise above your sin. Do you find it very hard to go on steadily enduring little difficulties that you have got to meet, the worries of life which perhaps send you into a bad temper and make you cross at home, an uncomfortable person to those round about you? He puts, before you the endurance and suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that manly patience—never forget that patience, although it is so splendidly characteristic of women, is still one of the attributes of a man—and in that noble, manly, magnificent patience of Jesus, he would have you learn to meet all little difficulties, just as all great trials, and so persevere to the end. You say, ‘Well, but my heart and life are so cold and indifferent that I cannot rise to all this.’ He puts before you in this Epistle what the character of Jesus Christ is, and shows how that transforms a man, so that through the life of Christ, if you let it sink into you, you can become a different person, all because Christ has done that and is ready to give you of His grace. You know what it is to struggle against the passions of your nature, and to find that the sins of a sensual kind, impurity and the like, are the ones by which you are most severely buffeted, and it may be, yea, it is, a hard thing to throw them off and a hard thing to trample them down; but here he lets you into the secret of doing it. It is in the mind of Christ being formed in you, and that is possible if you will only let yourselves come so near to Christ as to learn what He is, Who He is, and what His power over you may be.

II. It is not only in dealing with persons as individuals, but in dealing with us as a Church, that St. Peter’s Epistle is so valuable. Here is his spiritual building up of the Church brought before you in my text. It is not a thought peculiar to St. Peter; you find it in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, and in the Apocalypse. But here you will find it plainly enough in the writings of St. Peter. From what Bishop Lightfoot wrote, I think it is very likely that St. Peter and St. Paul were thrown very much together at the time when St. Peter composed this Epistle and St. Paul composed his Epistle to the Ephesians, which would account very much for St. Peter’s writing in this peculiar strain of the building up of the Church. And the great theory that is filling the minds of both of them is this: that there is to be a great spiritual temple built—that is, a great Catholic Church—and each member of it is to be a spiritual stone in this great edifice. We Churchmen are constantly being accused of narrow-mindedness and exclusiveness. I wonder if those who criticise the Church understand it. That which we, according to our Prayer Book, are aiming at, and ought to be aiming at, is that breadth and catholicity of the Church which will not allow sectarianism, and therefore has to hold itself aloof from divisions and dissent because it realises that we ought to be one body, we ought to be one great Church. We are to realise what the unity of the great body is—we are to be built not into a number of separate small edifices, but to be built up into a great spiritual temple; and who can help seeing the strength it would be to Christianity if we realised that unity, if, instead of all that struggling and fighting, one set of people against another, we learned what that spirit of unity really is!

III. The explanation of the fact that Christianity does not take strong hold on the world, is because we are divided among ourselves. Let us learn to be united under our King of Kings, to realise the unity of the Church, and then we shall know what it is to be able to win souls for Christ. I am not saying one word to argue that there is to be a fixed adamantine kind of level of thought, or an absolute dictatorial uniformity. Unity is an entirely different thing from uniformity; and it is that unity of the Church which fills the mind of the Apostles. They have got the one thought of the one Head of the Church, Who fills every particle of their minds, their hearts, and their wills, and they want to be and they want to do all they can for the Lord Jesus Christ.

—Bishop G. W. Kennion.

Illustration

‘We know well enough all the claims that are made in the name of St. Peter. If you study this Epistle right through you will not find one word said about his supremacy over other Apostles or over other people. If you read this Epistle with microscopic care, you will never find one trace of infallibility in it; but what you will find is that the strenuous, active, buoyant, high-spirited character that you knew of in Peter, the fisherman, called to be an Apostle, is, after his fall, his repentance, his reinstalment, and his baptism by the Holy Ghost, turned into a new channel. And because he is so entirely absorbed in the life of Jesus Christ, he bases all that he teaches, all that he thinks, all that he wants others to be, upon what Christ is, upon what Christ has done, and upon what Christ is able to do for those to whom he writes.’


Verse 5

LIVING STONES

‘Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’

1 Peter 2:5 (R.V.)

That ‘spiritual house’ of which these Jewish Christians were to form a part is to-day, after the lapse of centuries, still in building. It is built upon the bed-rock, if we may venture so to call Him, Jesus Christ—‘that rock was Christ,’ says St. Paul. Based upon that rock is the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, and reared upon them as on a foundation is the spiritual fabric of the Temple or Church of God in which all the saints of God are to find a place. Let us examine what we mean by this a little closer.

I. A spiritual house built of living stones.—The material fabric of church or temple is made up of various parts, and each part has its special use. Each part, too, has its component elements, some more notable, some less, some in the broad light of day, some in dark and obscure corners. Some of these needed more cutting and hewing than others, but every individual fragment of the building has to be fashioned in order that it may fit into its place in the whole.

II. So each individual in the Church of God has to submit himself to the Master Builder’s hand.—For some He designs notable places in His spiritual house on earth, and still more in the house eternal in the heavens. For others here on earth there are obscurer positions—some, indeed, quite hidden away from the notice of men. The humble, modest, retiring, God-fearing Christian is just as much a stone in the building as the most remarkable bishop or archbishop, or leading layman. And as in the material fabric there are parts that lie quite out of sight, so in the Church of Christ there is many a saint whose life is hidden with Christ in God. But there is one essential difference between the material stones and the spiritual. The material stones are dead, lifeless. The spiritual stones must be living. There must be energy, power, progress about them. The earthly house of God of which they form a part is but temporary, and a place of preparation for the house eternal in the heavens. So we may see sometimes a temporary church erected where a congregation may be collected, trained, and prepared to enter into possession of a beautiful permanent church later on.

III. If there is to be this gradual preparing and fitting into the spiritual fabric of the living stones, how is it to be effected?—Surely by training and discipline. The stone has to be cut, it has to endure ‘many a biting sculpture.’ So the living stone has to go through much. There is more or less to be cut away. Rough parts have to be made smooth, sharp angular points have to be taken off; it has to find its place amongst others; it has to suffer the hard blows, it may be of adversity or pain; and this process has to go on all through life. The earthly Church of Christ is not perfect—nothing human can be—but as a whole and in its individual members it has to endure trouble and hardship. Perhaps such a time of stress may be coming near to us now, who knows? It is only in this way that the earthly living stone can be made fit for its place in the heavenly temple. Just as Christ, the Bridegroom, was made ‘perfect through suffering,’ so the Church, His Bride, must, during the times of her probation, undergo suffering too if she is to be made perfect. What does St. Paul say? ‘Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it … that He might present the Church to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish.’ This is what the house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens, ‘a building from God,’ is to be.

IV. ‘Living stones,’ selected by the Master Builder, and called to high duties and privileges; you are called also to high office. Just as in the Jewish Church there was a priesthood which discharged ministerial offices, whilst at the same time the whole people were ‘a kingdom of priests,’ so it is now. We, too, have a priesthood to whom is committed ministerial office on behalf of the rest, but none the less are we made, all of us, ‘unto our God a kingdom and priests.’ It is for the lay people to exercise their privileges in this respect, and to confirm and ratify what is done in their name by their own participation in it. Ye are a royal priesthood. Carry out to the full your duty, and that in every branch of Church work. It is because the laity have been too much inclined in times past to leave their part of the work undone or to be done by the clergy instead of themselves that Church people have not realised to the full all the privileges and duties to which they were called. There is not one of us that ought to be content unless he or she has something to do in the Kingdom of Christ and for the glory of God. A perfunctory attendance at church on Sundays, perhaps only once, and nothing done or attempted besides, is very far from the ideal which the busiest of us in the affairs of the world ought to aim at. To belong to a holy priesthood, as you do in virtue of your Christian calling, implies also, as the text teaches us, the offering up of spiritual sacrifices.

—Rev. Dr. Redpath.

Illustration

‘I think we can very easily understand how St. Peter came to use this language to those to whom he was writing. They were already Christians—that is the meaning of the word “elect” in the first verse of the Epistle—but they were also “sojourners of the Dispersion”; that is, members of the Jewish nation scattered abroad in various parts of the world, “in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” These were to be the recipients of the letter, and the Apostle had to consider what language would best appeal to them. He would think of them as still in heart Jewish nationalists to the backbone, with their thoughts and affections always reverting to their own country, their own holy city, and in it their own Temple, the centre of their own religious worship, the place which God had chosen to place His name in.’


Verse 7

THE PRECIOUSNESS OF CHRIST

‘Unto you therefore which believe He is precious.’

1 Peter 2:7

How unspeakably precious is Christ ‘set forth as a propitiation for sin’—‘Who Himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree!’

I. It is therefore for every one of us a practical question, Have we received Christ into our own hearts? Is He practically potent and precious in our daily lives? Does he inspire, and sanctify, and comfort us in daily experiences? Can we say of Him, ‘Christ, Who is our life’—‘The Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our hope’? Were we suddenly called to stand before God, should we be ‘found in Him’? It is not a question of notions or beliefs about Christ, but of living experience of Him, practical appropriation of the grace that He brings, practical quickening by the life that He is. Everything, therefore, turns upon your individually receiving Christ, upon your religious experience of Christ, linking your life to His life, rooting yourself in Him, as the branch is in the vine.

II. Do you, then, so trust in Christ? Have you so received His atonement? Have you any experimental understanding of the things concerning which I have spoken? Is Christ precious to you above all things else—above pleasure, and wealth, and sin, and friends, and life itself? Is He nearest you in thought and dearest in affection—the supreme good and joy of your life?

III. And in your practical estimates of things, is that desired by you most eagerly which brings you the nearest to Him—the converse, the prayers, the hymns, the preaching, the Church, the ordinances? Does that which makes you know the most of Him attract and delight you most? And if you are indeed His and know His love, it will be a good thing to try yourself often and ask, If such and such a comfort were taken away, could I stay myself upon His love? If I had none of these things, would He suffice? If He should say, ‘Keep all without me,’ or, ‘Give up all and keep me alone,’ which should I choose? If I had now to leave everything and sit at His feet, would this be happiness and joy to me?

IV. Some Christians are satisfied to go on without this—taking as much of the world as they decently can, satisfied with a practical distance from God, without conscious peace and joy, and without anything in the tone, or spirit, or conversation that savours of heaven. Beware of this! If you know and love Him, live for Him. A Christian that leaves not at every turn a savour of Christ is a denial of Him!


Verse 9

THE HIGHEST OF ALL VOCATIONS

‘Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.’

1 Peter 2:9 (R.V.)

In the eyes of the early Church it was so splendid and sacred a distinction to be within the people of God that no distinctions within the body were anything like as important. To be a layman—whether you were Apostle or only a hearer—was to be a man called, chosen, marked, consecrated, responsible; to be a layman was to have a vocation and a value.

I. Here lay one of the chief outward differences between the religion of the Temple and the religion of the upper room. The old Jewish Church was split into sharply divided castes: the priest, charged with the work of sacrifice, purification, and prayer; the scribe and lawyer, charged with the authoritative dogmatic exposition of the law, stood clean apart on a higher plane from the common and despised people which knew not the law. The new Church, on the other hand, was one; manifold in tasks but one in spirit, feeling, life; one in the supreme fact that its ascended Lord gave, inspired, sustained the energies of every member. If one man was commissioned to teach, yet all were bearers of the Spirit; if one stood alone to offer the Eucharist, yet all were in the sacerdotal body, fellow-offerers and sharers in the one sacrifice. There was no room for modern clericalism then, because there was no room for the modern layman, or for what common opinion means by a layman to-day.

II. Many of the causes which led to the gradual separation of clergy and people were natural, and in their working, justifiable. While in the earliest age a presbyter or deacon would have his trade to follow if he were free, or his master to serve if he were a slave, as the Church grew towards maturity the increase of clerical responsibilities made it necessary to provide a special maintenance for the clergy; the clergy took a stated share of the monthly offerings of the faithful.

(a) The effect of this arrangement was that in turn all Church officers came to stand on the footing claimed by St. Paul as permissible to an Apostle; preaching the gospel, they lived by the gospel. Yet even when this step was taken, and the line of division between cleric and layman became visible as a professional distinction, there was much in early Church life which tended to preserve the conception of Christian unity. Within the Church walls the differences of function brought the distinction between the orders into prominence; but in daily life it was less obvious. Moreover, the lines of hierarchical division were crossed by other distinctions. The possession of a spiritual gift, such as prophecy, might lend one layman more weight than he would have had as presbyter or deacon; another as a confessor or martyr might wield an authority almost as great as that of a bishop; another as a scholar might be found preaching and teaching even where the higher clergy were present to sit under him. Further, for several centuries the laity retained their place in corporate functions of vital importance, such as the election of clergy and bishops, or conciliar deliberation.

(b) But little by little the laity lost their ground. The clergy became more and more official and professional, and with the specialisation of clerical work came the lowering of the ideals of the laity. As bishops, priests, deacons, and the rest passed clean away from secular life into a sphere of their own, and the clerical profession, the clerical world, came into being, so little by little it began to be felt that the layman’s was a lower vocation and a lower responsibility: that he might wear a lighter cross and tread an easier path; and from this root sprang all that lamentable classification of Christian callings, more deadly, perhaps, than any schism, which put the monastic life highest of all, the clerical vocation next, and lowest that of the mere Christian, the mere layman.

III. Shall we ever retrace and reverse the story of this miserable degeneration?—Will the time ever come when to be baptized, confirmed, and a communicant is felt to be in itself the highest of all vocations? We feel and speak now as if the difference between man and priest, priest and layman, were a difference in kind, whereas that between Churchman and non-Christian were only a difference in degree. Shall we ever come again to feel that to be in or out of the body of Christ is an alternative so tremendous that in comparison with it the difference between priest and layman dwindles almost into insignificance? If that apostolic conception ever returns, then I will dare to suggest that it may bring with it not only life to the dead bones, but also the return of one other feature of the apostolic age.

IV. The army of our priesthood.—What is it but a series of skeleton battalions? The diaconate we have all but abandoned, utilising it solely as a stage in the probation of a priest. But is it altogether beyond the horizon of any one’s dreams that if the vocation of the laity were restored to its true place of honour we might dare to fill up the skeleton battalions as they would have been filled up in the apostolic age? Then there were men—a few—who, preaching the gospel, lived by the gospel; but the mass of men in holy orders were also men of business and handicraft. There must always be an army of priests who shall withdraw from secular cares, and “draw all their cares and studies” towards the work of the ministry; but must there never again be men in holy orders who live and work and gain their bread in ordinary employments? It would be easy to show how the intolerable strain put upon many a town priest might be lifted if this dream came true, and how the brotherhood of the Church might be welded together, if only in this matter precedent were our servant and not our master. At present we have pushed so far out into the realm of experiment as to restore, partially, timidly, tentatively, the order of Readers. The gain is real, but it is jealously guarded by restrictions, and it is proportionately small. I would plead for a bolder outlook, and will venture to put the plea in one concrete form.

—Rev. H. N. Bate.

Illustrations

(1) ‘One strange feature of the traditional organisation of the Church is this: that while we revere the vocation of the clergy and undervalue that of the laity, yet each one of the three orders is miserably undermanned. A Christian of the fourth century would say that a Bishop with a diocese of 30,000 Christians would have as great a burden of pastoral responsibility as any man could bear, that a diocese of 100,000 was unprecedented, one of 1,000,000 unthinkable. Our episcopal order, with its dioceses of two, three, and four millions, is but a fraction of what the Church of England practically requires for its immediate needs.’

(2) ‘At the Pan-Anglican Congress the Bishop of Auckland made a moving appeal on behalf of the young nations—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa—for men to go out and help to keep the white man Christian; “to save the man in the back blocks from the curse of trying to do without God.” Every one knows that as things are we can do nothing else and nothing better than to feel it as natural and normal for a priest to go out to New Zealand as it is for him to move from parish to parish at home. But one cannot help asking oneself how St. Paul, or a Church inspired by St. Paul, would have heard and answered the cry of the young nations. Can you imagine St. Paul writing back from Spain or from Corinth to Antioch, Jerusalem and Cæsarea, “Send us elders and deacons, for there is work to be done, and it will all go to pieces unless you send us men”? You know what he did and what he would do. He went and founded local Churches, and he found their officers on the spot. He “ordained elders in every place.” In the Canadian township he would not be content, would not think that there was a living Church at all, unless he could leave the farmer, the builder, or the schoolmaster as elders and deacons of the local brotherhood, to minister, to administer, to break the bread for the people of Christ.’


Verse 11

FLESHLY LUSTS

‘Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.’

1 Peter 2:11

A fleshly lust is either the desire for anything inherently sinful, or the inordinate and excessive appetite for anything inherently harmless or indifferent. The attribute ‘fleshly’ points to the origin and sphere and aim of such lusts. A list of them in Galatians 5:19-21. Being fleshly, they cannot but war against the soul. They war against the body in many instances, but their worst influence and most pernicious is on the spiritual nature of man.

I. Indirectly they act on body and mind.—Close connection between soul and body through the mind. A healthy soul depends much on ‘a sound mind in a sound body.’ Fleshly lusts injure the body beyond the natural power of toleration, partially or totally, temporarily or permanently. The state of the body affects the mental powers in their exercise correspondingly, enfeebling thought, indisposing to thought, absorbing time for thought, narrowing the inlets of light and truth and grace to the soul.

II. In their direct influence

(a) They blunt conscience and stifle its faithful warning, and demoralise.

(b) They separate the soul from God and that fellowship which is its true life. Under shame and fear men hide from God, feeling that they cannot have fellowship with Him and keep their lusts. Withdrawal from God is deadly to the soul.

(c) They whet the appetite for repetition. They grow by what they feed on, demand fresh gratification. They raise distracting, exhausting, painful strife if satisfaction be denied; absorb the soul’s energies in resistance; monopolise time, thought, attention, and moral power; all which should have been devoted to other duties. It is at the soul’s expense that resistance is made, at the expense of higher duties, and with the loss of opportunities for positive progress. If not resisted they enslave the soul and take the pith out of it. With every gratification so much moral strength passes over from us into that which masters us, and the power of resistance is gradually but surely lost.

(d) They inflict future and eternal injury. Sowing to the flesh, so as to be the hopeless slave of corruption, must inevitably lead to exclusion from the holy kingdom. Lusts indulged in lessen the capacity of the soul for God, and give a believer a lower place in heaven than he would otherwise have. Part of the misery of the lost may be the perpetual mastery of these lusts, the perpetual check of an awakened conscience, and the absence of material for gratification. The warning is addressed to Christians as strangers and pilgrims passing on to eternity. Their safety lies indeed in the grace of God, but it lies, too, in their ‘abstinence.’


Verse 15

FOOLISH MEN SILENCED

‘For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.’

1 Peter 2:15

Christ’s disciples need not expect to fare better than their Master. Men will say all manner of evil against them falsely for His sake, misunderstand their principles and motives, misrepresent their actions and words, exaggerate their infirmities, and magnify their inconsistencies.

I. They who speak against them are ignorant and foolish men.—That is one comfort. Such talkers do not understand the Christian in his difficulties and conflicts, and aspirations and aims, and successes and failures. They have never felt the like, so as to sympathise and hold their tongues. They are foolish in having no such aims, in judging Christians by their own ignorance, in speaking against the excellent of the earth, in being themselves destitute of saving wisdom. Still the Christian may be irritated by the very fact that he has to suffer from ignorance, and that, too, of foolish men; yet he should pity rather than be irritated.

II. The ignorance of foolish men may be silenced.—This ignorance, the worst, the most pertinacious and hopeless. They may not be convinced, but they can be silenced, as if theirs were the unreason and ignorance of brute beasts.

III. Not by word, or pen, or argument, or retort.—Answer not a fool according to his folly. Well doing alone silences them; in all the relations of life, especially in those that are most public, as citizens and subjects to the monarchy and the magistracy, in the discharge of political duty and the enjoyment of political privilege, in the exercise of our Christian liberty, acting in all things as servants of God and for men’s good, as members of society honouring all, respecting what is good in all, as members of one church, loving the brethren, fearing God. Deeds are stubborn things. Even ignorant and foolish men cannot get over ‘well doing.’

IV. It is God’s will that this should be done.—It is not a matter of policy or worldly prudence for personal comfort. We dare not be indifferent for our own sakes, or for theirs, or for Christ’s. Not only our comfort and usefulness, but their salvation and Christ’s honour are involved. It may not be to our liking to employ well doing. That it is God’s will should be enough.


Verse 16

THE AMBITION OF LIFE

‘Servants of God.’

1 Peter 2:16

I wish to set before you service as the great object and ambition of life. There can be no more princely motto than this ‘I serve.’

I. Service is the only true measure of greatness.—Run your minds over the good men of the world, and ask why it is that generation after generation has determined to stamp them as great. Why is it? Because they have done great service to God and to man. Think of any of the departments of life. Why do we call Shakespeare great, or the Duke of Wellington, or the man of science—Mr. Darwin, for instance—or our great musicians, Handel, and so forth? Surely because if you apply this test to them you will find that in every case the man whom we stamp as great has done good service. And need I remind you that the greatest Servant the world has ever seen was the Incarnate Son of God Himself, Who said of Himself, ‘I am among you as one that serveth’?

II. Society is bound up by, consists of, a texture of services, great and small, rendered to one another. And if you were to attempt to resolve society into a very simple condition, in which there was not this wonderful variety of interdependent and mutually contributory services, we should be going back at once to barbarism. It is civilisation, Christian civilisation, that has brought about this marvellous texture of mutual services. If you think for a moment of what we term domestic service, consider how absolutely necessary it is for the work of life. Take a very simple instance, a Cabinet minister. Let us imagine for a moment that owing to the annihilation of our necessary system of division and combination of labour, he was to find himself some day compelled to provide for himself, to do his housework himself, and so forth, how would it be possible for him to do his service to the nation? His service to the nation can only be rendered if there are other servants doing departments of work which must fall upon him, unless he is able to get it done for him, by our system of domestic service. And in this respect the body politic is like the natural body.

III. We cannot hope to render great service; but what can we all do?—There is no one who cannot have this ambition, and hope to realise it; we can all greatly serve; we can all serve magnanimously; we can all, according to our different circumstances and equipment, and opportunities and capacities, and so forth, we can all render to God and to man the very best that He has put within our reach. Are we doing so? That is the question. Are we attempting to slip through life, getting as much self-enjoyment out of it and shirking the service in which our true happiness should be found? or are we spending our very best selves, bringing to bear upon that particular part of service which, for the time being, God has committed to our hands, whether it be small or great, are we bringing to bear upon it, I say, all our equipment of mind, all our resources, material, or money, or property, or influence, station, and the like? This is the question that goes to the very root of our life, goes to the very root of social happiness and progress. And may I especially lay stress upon this aspect of the matter to any of those who may be present who may think that the work and service of life which God has bestowed upon them is a small and dreary and unsatisfactory one, those who have not yet learnt to see its possibilities and dignity.

—Bishop Jayne.

Illustration

‘I dare say you may have heard these lines, very very familiar lines, which we should write upon our memories and try to live up to, setting them before us, incorporating this high and generous ambition:—

“Teach me, my God and King,

In all things Thee to see,

And what I do in any thing

To do it as to Thee.

All may of Thee partake;

Nothing can be so mean,

But with this tincture—for Thy sake—

Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause

Makes drudgery divine;

Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,

Makes that and the action fine.”

Is that not true divinity? Is not that the secret of generous and high-minded life? Is that not the kind of spirit we all need in order to make us live worthy of our God and of ourselves, and of that human nature with which He has knit us together, so that it must thrive to some extent, or dwindle and decay, according as we are loyal or disloyal in our rendering of service?’


Verse 17

BROTHERHOOD

‘Love the brotherhood’

1 Peter 2:17

This is an instruction which commends itself to our conscience, but which we find difficult to obey. The love of brethren seems, in itself, a reasonable requirement; and it is so decisively demanded by our Lord Himself (see John 13:14; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13; John 15:17), that it ought to take a front place in the rank of Christian obligations.

The reference in the text is undoubtedly to the Christian brotherhood; yet we need not wholly exclude others from our thought.

I. The human brotherhood.—All men are related to Jesus Christ. For them He lived and died; He is addressing and visiting them all; He is claiming all as His subjects and servants; He is the one hope and refuge of mankind. As thus related to Him we may bring them within our view as we think of ‘the brotherhood.’

II. The Christian nation.—We distinguish one nation from another by the faith their populations hold and the principles they practise. Thus regarded, we are a Christian people. But we are very far from such a ‘brotherhood’ as St. Peter had in view.

III. The disciples of Christ.

(a) The inner circle of all those who, in any country and in any society, are looking towards the Saviour.

(b) The innermost circle of those who are closely bounded together in Christian fellowship, striving together for the faith of the Gospel.

Illustration

‘Remember where you are, if you be lively members of the body of Christ. You have been chosen out of the world, gathered into a fold of which Christ is the door, adopted into a home for the members of which He prayed to the Eternal Father “that they may be one, as We are.” If you be true to your character, you will find in the peace of love and unity of your Christian home not only a solace for the troubles of the world, but a counter-attraction against its sinful pleasures and shelter against its dangers. And, moreover, that love and union, which ministers to your joy, serves to the glory of God, and wins souls from the world into the Church.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE ATTITUDE OF BROTHERHOOD

‘Loving the brotherhood’ includes many more thoughts and feelings than one.

I. Towards those that are within the human brotherhood it becomes us to show—

(a) A profound compassion;

(b) An intelligent solicitude;

(c) A courageous and Christian endeavour.

II. Towards those that are within the Christian brotherhood it becomes us to show—

(a) A deep fraternal sympathy;

(b) A genuine esteem;

(c) A cordial affection.

How can we love those who, while they may belong to ‘the brotherhood,’ show themselves unamiable at nearly every point? There is one way by which even this difficulty may be surmounted. We must regard ‘the brotherhood’ with Christian eyes.


Verse 21

NATURAL FAILINGS AND SPECIAL GRACES

‘For even hereunto were ye called’

1 Peter 2:21

There is always something very interesting in seeing what kind of men God chooses to send His messages to us by. God has many different messages to us, and God sends His messages to us by different messengers. The Bible was not all written by one writer. The New Testament was written by a great many different Evangelists and Apostles. We have four different Gospels by four different Evangelists; and though the greater number of the Epistles were written by St. Paul, still we have Epistles by St. John, and St. James, and St. Jude, and St. Peter. We try to see what things God chooses to tell us, by which messengers. Or, in other words, we try to see what are the particular things which each particular Apostle writes most about, and what were the points in that Apostle’s character which made him different from the others.

I. St. Peter’s natural disposition was what we should call hot and fiery.—He was eager, and impetuous, and impatient. He was always for doing everything at once. And you will remember especially how angry he was when first our Lord revealed to him that He was to be put to death by the Jews. St. Peter could not take in the idea. He loved his Master. He wanted to see Him honoured and obeyed, and he could not stop to think what our Lord might mean, and why it might have to turn out true. St. Peter was startled and shocked, and he never stopped to think, but spoke out hastily and angrily, and contradicted his Lord’s words, and drew down upon himself our Lord’s solemn anger, for he had spoken very wrongly. So, again, you know, it was St. Peter who tried to rescue our Lord when He was arrested the night before His Crucifixion. And yet for all his eagerness and forwardness, St. Peter was not steadfast. One time he would be going too far, another time not far enough. He wanted steadiness. Though he was so ready to act and to strike, he was not ready to endure. It was not natural to him to bear. His natural disposition, as we say, was quick and sudden, but it was not naturally good at endurance. Such, then, was the natural disposition of the Apostle St. Peter, who was commissioned by God to write this letter or Epistle.

II. Now let us look at the message from God in our text, and let us put it alongside of what we have seen of the natural disposition of the Apostle who wrote it.

(a) What is the message? He is telling Christian people something about what God meant them to be and to do when God called them to be Christians. St. Peter says to us ‘hereunto were ye called.’ Whereunto? What is the particular thing that St. Peter chooses out of all the many points of a Christian’s life to write to us about? It is about that very thing which St. Peter had found it so very hard even to hear of, when Christ his Master told him He would have to bear it. It is all about suffering wrongfully and taking things patiently, about doing well and being treated ill, and still not murmuring or reviling, but committing ourselves to Him that judgeth righteously.

(b) And why? Because such was Christ’s example, and because we are called to copy our Master, and therefore, hard as all this may seem, we must not think it hard. We are called Christians, and this is being Christians. Just as being a soldier means that a man must be ready to bear wounds and hardships and death; just as being a lawyer means that a man must study and think and advise, and not be enjoying himself in the sports of the field; just as being a clergyman means that a man must give up many worldly pleasures which may be quite right in themselves—so being a Christian means that we are bound to be patient and gentle, to be very enduring, to take injustice quietly, and not be at all surprised if we are found fault with for the very things which we know to be the best things we have ever done.

III. Taking St. Peter’s natural disposition, this is just the very last thing which we should have expected to find him writing about.—And it is not as if this came only once in St. Peter’s letters. If you will read them through you will see that the same thing comes over and over again. He is always telling us this. It seems as if he felt that it was one of the chief things he was commissioned by God to teach Christian people. It really looks as if St. Peter had never forgotten the rock on which, but for God’s grace, he was in such danger of making shipwreck—the rock of an impetuous, hasty disposition, quick to strike, impatient to bear, and therefore—as such people always are—unstable and unsteady. And we can hardly doubt it was so. Different people have different self-denials, according to what their dispositions are. What is a self-denial to one man comes quite easily to another. And we can have no doubt that to St. Peter the greatest self-denial was the checking his eager disposition, the having to bear injustice, and—what to a generous-tempered man is the hardest thing of all—the having to see injustice done, and yet not meddle because it was no business of his.

IV. Thus St. Peter learnt to bear his cross.—And then, when he had learned to bear it, he became quite changed; and instead of impatience being his particular sin, quietness and trust in God became his particular virtue; and then God chose him to preach the duty he had learned to practise; and we Christian people, all these centuries after, are learning from St. Peter to this day the great Christian duty of bearing injuries and forgiving injustice. By God’s choosing St. Peter to teach us this, he is teaching us more also. It is not as if it was anybody that God had inspired to write this Epistle and preach this duty. When God causes St. Peter to set forth the Christian duty of bearing injuries, He is teaching us the use He means us to make of what we call our natural defects. We have all of us some particular faults—besetting sins, as we commonly call them. Some of us are naturally lazy; some of us are naturally proud; some of us are naturally covetous—everybody has something which he is naturally prone to. This is so plain that we all of us admit it; but the wrong may be overcome.


Verses 21-23

THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION

‘For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.’

1 Peter 2:21-23

What a full description we have here of the purpose of the Incarnation! Christ came to the world, He suffered for us, and left us an example that we should follow His steps. How can we follow in His steps? This is the real meaning of the text, that in this twentieth century, in this place, we are to try to so read the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ that our life will be as near as possible to the life we should imagine our Lord Jesus Christ would have lived had His lot been thrown, not in the first century, but in the twentieth, not in the Holy Land, but here. How are we to know what kind of life the Lord Jesus Christ would have lived had He been in my place? No one can decide that for us except ourselves, guided by the Holy Spirit, and the one great work of the Holy Spirit is to show us how Jesus would have us live.

I. Two principles.—The Lord Jesus Christ laid down two principles for our life, and no matter what our circle may be, no matter what our peculiar duty in life may be, whether it be in the public gaze or the background of the home, it matters nothing, these two principles can be applied by every one to the circumstances of our lives. The Lord Jesus Christ always put these two things before everything else: (1) His duty to God the Father, and (2) the work He had come to do for man. Those two things were the guiding principles of His life. Everything fitted in with them. Was there a single act or corner of His life that was out of harmony with the fact that He had come to do the will of God? Everything revolved round it. The second principle was this: ‘I have come to give My life for others, to put other men first before Myself.’ Was there ever an occasion all through His life in which He did not put others before Himself? He has left us an example that we should follow His steps and make these two principles the principles round which our life revolves.

II. Our duty to God.—I have here, in my own individual circle, to do the will of God. We read of Enoch that he walked with God. Christ shows us how that is to be done by each one of us. You look at two people walking along. Walking side by side means this, that the walkers see from the same point of view. Now when you walk with God, when you just simply put your will by the side of God’s will, then it comes about that you begin to look at things through the eyes of God Himself, and hence there comes harmony and concord between you and your heavenly Father. ‘Am I sure that this is God’s will? Am I certain of this being the life God would have me live?’ If we would only apply that touchstone to the details of our life, what a different life many of us would live! ‘Am I certain that it is the will of God that I should say, that I should think, that I should do this thing?’ Is this of God? That is what Christ always practised in His life. He has left us an example, and we are to follow in His steps and ask ourselves moment by moment, day by day, thought by thought, word by word, Is this the will of God?

III. Our duty to man.—Jesus Christ came down to minister unto others, to give His life a ransom for others. He lived and worked for others, and He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. In other words, are we selfish, or are we unselfish; let us test this matter now before God. Do we live for others? Think of His marvellous life of self-denial, He gave up everything for men. Not self, but others, that was the life that Christ lived. Have you lived up to the standard He laid down? What is the answer? Do we ever think of Him, do we remember Jesus Christ? You look at a bricklayer, and see that every now and then he gets a plumb-line to see whether he has been keeping straight? What is the great plumb-line? Let us say it reverently, it is Jesus Christ, and we have got to put Jesus Christ by the side of our life, to see whether it is straight, whether our life is being built up by the side of Christ or not.

The Master would have us follow His steps every day.

Rev. J. E. Watts-Ditchfield.

Illustration

‘In old days children at day-school had their copy-books with the “copy” on the top line, and they started to write the first line well. But when the next line came, many would look not so much at the top line as at the line they had just written. The consequence was that number two was not written so well, and by the time they got to the bottom of the page they had been copying all mistakes until the last line was the worst of all. According to the modern way of teaching children to write, the copy is on the top line, but the child begins at the bottom line and works upwards. The line just written is covered up; the child is bound to look at the top line. Hence every line he writes is better than the preceding line. That is a parable. Many of us start our line well, but, unfortunately, when that first line is written, instead of keeping the eye fixed on our “copy,” the Lord Jesus Christ, we begin to copy what we have done the week before, we fall into habits similar to the previous week, and, bit by bit, these habits deteriorate just like the child’s writing. The Lord Jesus Christ leaves us an example. He means this, that every day should be a separate line. Every day should be a complete line. To-morrow we are not to look at to-day’s life, and try to live like to-day, but to-morrow we are to start afresh, and just live to-morrow as a new day, looking unto Jesus. He has left us an example that we should follow His steps.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

CHRIST OUR EXAMPLE

I. The perfection of Christ’s example.—St. Peter represents the example of Christ in connection with the sufferings of Christ, and in his epitome of them fixes on two all-important facts.

(a) Their magnitude. We are not equal to the task of describing the sufferings of Christ. They were multifold, and their greatness corresponded with their number and variety.

(b) Their manifestation. Albeit matchless, undeserved, and trying, Christ’s sufferings provoked no retaliation or curse from Him. Instead, He exhibited the virtue of patience in all its passiveness and beauty.

II. The intention of Christ’s example.—Just as St. Peter placed the sufferings of Christ before us in a twofold manner, so he has done with the example of Christ.

(a) It is to be faithfully copied. Every act of His is a letter to be followed; and especially as it regards suffering, He has written us a pure and perfect copy in clear, large letters, even with His own blood. True, His example is so perfect that no disciple will ever prove an exact transcript of it; but he that aims high shoots all the higher for his aim, though he falls short of hitting the mark (Philippians 3:7-14).

(b) It will surely be rewarded. Conscience will at once experience this (2 Corinthians 1:12). Men also will admire and praise the exhibition of the nobler virtues (1 Peter 2:12). But, above all, heaven will approve and recompense them. ‘Learn of Me,’ says Jesus; ‘for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ And again, ‘He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ And this pledge holds good, not only for this world, but likewise for that which is to come (Revelation 2:10).


Verses 21-25

THE EXALTED CHRIST

‘Christ also suffered for us … the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.’

1 Peter 2:21-25

The Head of the Church is exalted to heaven, and we His members are called upon to look up to our glorious Head.

I. The Exalted Christ is the perfect pattern to His Church.

(a) He suffered for us—should we not, therefore, willingly follow in His footsteps, and, as His disciples, bear the cross? But to be fashioned like Him we must look well into the holy passion of our Saviour, that we may be changed into the same image, ‘and be made conformable to His death.’

(b) Christ suffered though perfectly innocent. He suffered the just for the unjust (1 Peter 2:22). We are sinful, and yet called upon at times to suffer wrongly and ‘for conscience’ sake’ (1 Peter 2:19); and Christ has left us an example of this.

(c) Christ suffered patiently (1 Peter 2:23). The word of the prophet was fulfilled. ‘He opened not His mouth.’ There was no word reviling or threatening. How this example shames some of the best Christians!

II. The Exalted Christ is the complete Redeemer of His Church (1 Peter 2:24).

(a) The offering of Christ is here regarded in its atoning aspect. He has reconciled us to God (Isaiah 53:5; Colossians 1:14).

(b) The offering of Christ is also regarded in its sanctifying efficacy. ‘That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”

III. The Exalted Christ is the faithful Shepherd of His Church (1 Peter 2:25).

(a) Man is as a strayed and lost sheep. What a picture is this of the natural man! Here St. Peter doubtless recalls the inimitable parable of our Lord recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel—the Pauline Gospel, as it has been called—but from this evidently all within the knowledge of St. Peter, even if not recorded in the Gospel of St. Mark, where His influence is traceable.

(b) Christ is the true Seeker of the lost sheep, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

Illustration

‘It is Christ’s glory that He is the image of His Father; it is our glory to be like Him. St. John says: “We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him.” It is one of the eternal purposes of the Divine Mind that every redeemed sinner shall at last resemble in holiness the Saviour Who redeemed Him; “whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate”—to what? Was it that we should live careless, ungodly lives for a few years here on earth, and then to go in that carelessness, and ungodliness to heaven? No. The destiny which God has determined for every true Christian is: “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” That Son is not to stand alone in the universe; the same Scripture says, He is to be the Head of a large family all like Him, “the Firstborn among many brethren.” For this purpose the Holy Spirit is sent down into our hearts, not simply to lead us to Christ, and to bring us through faith into union and fellowship with Him, but to work day by day within us to mould us into His likeness. And we ourselves too are commanded to labour after conformity to Him. We are to be followers of Him, to have the same mind in us that was in Him, and so to walk even as He walked.’


Verse 25

SHEPHERD AND SHEEP

‘Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.’

1 Peter 2:25

Who would expect such allusions in an address to servants, urging them to propriety of conduct? Evidently, from the beginning, religion was mixed up with practical life. Oppressed bondsmen were reminded of the example of Christ, and were expected to follow Him in patient endurance of wrong, remembering that they themselves had been the occasion, through their wanderings, of the Shepherd’s weary, painful quest.

I. A picture of ourselves.

(a) What we were. Even sheep going astray, according to the familiar image met with so often, both in the Old Testament and the New.

(b) What we are. Now ‘returned,’ by Divine grace, from our wanderings to the fold, and so to happiness, safety, and abundance. Happy they of whom this is true.

II. A picture of our Lord.

(a) The Shepherd, as represented in the paintings in the Catacombs. He exercises the pastoral office mainly in the recovery of the lost of the flock. Observe: (1) His pity for the flock. (2). His search for the lost. (3) His suffering for the lost. (4) His rescue of the lost.

(b) The Bishop of our souls, i.e. the Overseer, Protector, Guide, and Ruler. (1) Christ controls His people whom He has restored. (2) And leads them in the paths of peace. (3) And feeds them in His plenteous pastures. (4) And protects them, i.e. with His ‘rod and staff.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Peter 2:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-peter-2.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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