“Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.”
This begins the second half of Peter’s letter. The first part was focused on theological ideas with a little bit of life application. Now, he is going to move into the practical part. The rest of his letter gives specific instructions on how we are to live out our lives.
He starts by addressing his readers as dear friends. In the ESV, this is translated as ‘beloved.’ Grudem writes in his commentary, “By using the word ‘beloved’ Peter reminds his readers that though he exhorts them as an apostle, he also cares for them as beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord’s family.”
He then urges us as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires. I want to take some time to look at these first two words: strangers and exiles. In my preparation for writing this, I had compared three versions of the Bible to see how they translated various words and phrases. Most were similar, but this first word ‘stranger’ in the CSB that I use, was translated two different ways in the other versions. In the Lexham English Bible (LEB) it is translated as foreigners, and in the English Standard Version (ESV) it is sojourners. The second word is exile. It is exile in the ESV also, but in the LEB, it is translated as temporary residents. Peter has already called them exiles at the beginning of the letter (1:1), now he adds the idea of strangers to it. The idea is that we are temporary residents living in a in a place that is not our home.
Because this is not our home, we need to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Edmund Clowney writes in The Message of First Peter: The Way of the Cross, “The verb abstain fits the calling of strangers. It means literally ‘to distance’ themselves from fleshly lusts. A temporary resident in a foreign land is not likely to adopt the customs of the land through which he is traveling.” What are some of these things we are to abstain from? Paul lists them in Galatians 5:9-21. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Notice that Peter writes these things ‘wage war against the soul.’ Grudem writes, “To entertain such desires may appear momentarily attractive and entirely harmless, since the desires do not usually break forth into wrongful actions, but they are in reality enemies which inflict harm on the Christian’s soul, making him spiritually weak and ineffective.”
We need to remember that we are in this world, but not of it. Jesus prayed this about his disciples in John 17: 14-16: “I have given them your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” We should not have our roots dug deep here. John writes this in 1 John 2: 15-16. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
Verse 12 is not a new sentence in the Greek. Not only are we to abstain from sinful desires, but we are also to conduct ourselves honorably among the Gentiles. This should be our daily pattern of life. It is our ongoing process of sanctification.
Peter says that we are to do this so that when they slander us as evil doers, they will observe our good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. Notice Peter doesn’t say ‘if’ they slander you, but ‘when’. The early Christians were accused of many things, and it is no different today. We are called homophobic, narrow minded, bigots, judgmental… you get the picture. We need to continue to stand for the truth (with a capital T), but do it in such a way, that our fruit shows. We are God’s ambassadors here on earth. We represent him. Are we doing it in such a way that others want what we have? Jesus says in Matthew 5: 14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” But we also need to understand that the world will hate us just as it hated him. Too many Christians fall into the trap of thinking that we must agree with everything the world does. That we are not to condemn sin, because it might hurt someone’s feelings. We walk a fine line as Christ followers, knowing that we are live our lives above reproach, but also knowing that the world will still not accept us. Jesus told his disciples this. “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
There is some question about what the phrase ‘the day he visits’ means. Some commentators believe this means that people are converted and glorify God because they see your good deeds. Support for this way of reading the passage comes from further in the letter where Peter writes of wives converting their husbands this way. Other commentators believe that this is referring to the day of judgment. Edmund Clowney writes, “If the day of visitation bears a positive sense here, it would mean the conviction and conversion of those who have seen Christian behavior. However, in view of the emphasis that Peter puts on the coming judgment in the day of the Lord, it seems more likely that Peter is describing the day that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Our pastor, William Dunlap at Summit Church in Buffalo, Wyoming, has been doing a series called Faithfulness in Babylon. We have been going through Jeremiah’s letter from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29:1-7. Verse seven is especially important. “Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.” They were to seek the welfare of the city and pray for it. Here in 1 Peter, we are called exiles. We are to do the same thing! We need to be praying, conducting ourselves honorably, and seeking the welfare of our country, wherever we live!
Grace be with you!