Harmless (1 Peter 3:13–17)

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. —1 Peter 3:13–14a (ESV)

John Piper says that this is “the most perplexing verse in the book” to him. That’s the kind of statement made by a mature believer reading the book as a humble child seeking understanding. Unbelievers and the immature are offended by 2:18 telling slaves to be subject or 3:1 telling wives to submit. The immature are not perplexed when Peter tells them not to be surprised by fiery trials (4:12). If you are reading this letter in humility and maturity, it’s a text like this that puzzles you. Again and again, Peter, and the Bible, explain that being an exile, an alien, a pilgrim, a stranger on this earth entails suffering. So what do we make of this verse?

Is it speaking proverbially? Generally, it’s true, if you are zealous for good, no harm will come to you. Proverbs 15:1 speaks  to this; “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If you obey traffic laws, generally, the highway patrolman won’t pull you over. When citizens are subject to the state (2:13), when believing slaves obey their unbelieving lords (2:18), when believing wives submit to unbelieving husbands (3:1), when Christians don’t return reviling for reviling, but instead bless (3:9), generally, no harm will come to them.

Or, is this verse speaking eschatologically? Eschatology is the study of the end, the last things. So is this verse saying that ultimately no harm will come to the saints? The “now”  at the beginning of v. 14 connects it back to the previous section which ended saying, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” So is this the reason that no one can harm us? Because God’s eyes are on us and are against the wicked so that in the end, we will be blessed and they cursed. To get the eschatological flavor that connects vv. 12 and 13 listen to a familiar passage from Romans 8:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” —Romans 8:31–39 (ESV).

God’s face shines towards you and frowns on the wicked. Now, who is there to harm you? This fits the emphasis of our living hope, imperishable inheritance, future salvation, and the grace ready to be revealed that Peter has so stressed.

So, which is it? I think both of these ideas are here together in this passage, and what illumines them is the “but” in v. 14. The “suffering” of v. 14 is the “harm” mentioned in v. 13. Peter asks the rhetorical question “Who is there to harm you?” and then qualifies that question, “but, if you should be harmed…”. Verse 13 is a proverbial statement, and v. 14 is the contrasting eschatological qualification.

You might be harmed, but only in such a way that is eschatologically not harmful. Persecution tries to rob the saints of life, but only puts deposits in their bank. Their harm cannot ultimately harm us. God turns their curses into blessings. We’re in union with Jesus. Remember what happened when they tried to stamp out His life?

 

Live as those Freed unto Slavery (1 Peter 2:11–17)

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“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” —1 Peter 2:13 (ESV)

What kind of earthy citizens should we exiles be? Keeping our conduct among the Gentiles honorable means submitting to the authorities we are under. It means paying taxes, driving the speed limit, and not ripping those tags off of sofas until we’ve bought them. You cannot proclaim submission to one authority while displaying a disregard for another. Don’t deny Jesus’ Lordship by rebelling against the powers He’s established. We who have a higher citizenship should be the best citizens of the low countries.

Yet, it should be clear that we obey “for the Lord’s sake.” When you are subject to the state, do so knowing that the state is subject to Christ. Obey as free men. This means obeying in fear of God (2:17), and not of men (3:14).

But if the saints are the best of citizens, the salt of the earth, the light of the world and such, abounding in good deeds, why are they persecuted so? Because their obedience is done in such a way that the state is not seen as supreme. Be we as wise a counselor as Daniel, should we insist on worshipping our God, to the lions we go. If we don’t bow to the god of the state, they ready the furnace. The state would rather have disobedient slaves who bow in fear when caught, than righteous free men who stand in confidence. What the rulers of this world really want is not free men who obey, but slaves who fear. If you don’t think such tyranny exists in our democracy, may I propose to you that a dependent woman is a more secure vote than a free man. The state isn’t trying to act as “father” and “husband” purely out of benevolence.

Submit, but do so declaring, “Jesus is Lord.” This was a radical political statement in the ancient world. The Romans were cool with you worshipping your gods, as long as you said, “Caesar is Lord.” The saints replied something like “We will be your best citizens, but we will not say that.”

The only reason to disobey a lesser authority is obedience to a higher one. At the top, every time, is God. We never have permission to be rebels in the absolute. All our acts are to be acts of submission in the ultimate sense. Live are free men who are slaves of God (2:16). Every righteous rebellion is first an act of obedience to Christ as Lord.

When the state calls evil good, do not submit. When the state calls a homosexual relationship “marriage,” do not submit. When the state says gender isn’t biological, don’t submit. When the state calls for you to bow in fear to them and disobey your Lord, stand in confidence before men, bowing in heart to Christ.

Some laws are good. Obey them gladly.

Other laws are dumb, but not immoral. Mock them, then obey with a jolly heart. Laugh at such rules as though you are a foreigner from a country where there is no such folly—for you are. Laugh like you have a King who makes such laws appear petty and go along unflustered, for you know that your King is Lord even over such nonsense. When the speed limit is 60 mph in New Mexico on a stretch of highway where you can see the only other car on said highway approximately two counties away, drive the speed limit joyfully obeying your Lord and labor to end such stupidity as a way of honoring others (2:7). But until the law is undone, submit.

Other laws are are evil. Say they are such. Disobey them. Work against them. Subvert them. But do this in glad-hearted obedience to God.

Submit as far as you can, so that when you do disobey, it is clear that it is not for selfish reasons. The state is used to selfish disobedience. Obey when it costs you and disobey when it costs you even more. If you go to jail, may it be not for tax evasion, but for sharing the gospel at an abortion mill. If the state ever punishes you, may if be for your obedience to Christ.

Matthew 14:1-13a & The Heralded and Herod

Here we have a king who looks like one but isn’t, and another King who doesn’t look like one but is. Herein lies the truer contrast of this text. The primary contrast you are meant to make isn’t between John and Herod, but between the King John heralds, and Herod.

Herod technically isn’t a king and Matthew wants to remind you of this; that is why though he calls Herod a king later (v. 9), he begins by telling us he is a “tetrarch”. Technically this means a ruler of a forth part of a kingdom, but it came to mean simply a lesser ruler. Herod Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, received the title “king” from Rome, but not Antipas. Still in both cases they were vassal rulers, subject to the authority of Rome. So here we have a pretend king, who hears word of the fame of the real King and fails to recognize Him. This is the setting for the flashback that makes up the majority of the text.

But it isn’t just the beginning of the text that informs us where the true contrast lies, it’s also the end. At the beginning, Herod hears about Jesus. At the end, Jesus hears about John. In both instances a king receives news; one responds with speculation, the other with preparation.

Upon hearing about John, Jesus wishes to get away by himself to a desolate place.  We see Jesus doing this often, and he often does it to pray. Why does Jesus wish to be alone? What is He thinking about? What is so heavy upon him that He desires to be alone in a desolate place? I think its simple – John’s death is a foreshadowing of His future. If this is how they treat the herald, it’s because of how they think of the King. Jesus’ future is determining the past. Jesus is thinking of the much more violent death He will face on the cross, not facing merely the limited frustration of any earthly potentate, but in addition the wrath of His Father against the sins of men.

So here we have a wicked king, who out of fear and in pride takes the life of his enemy, contrasted with the righteous King, who out of love and in humility prepares to give His life for His enemies.

May we now herald Him too, even unto death.

Matthew 10:24-33 & Fight Fear with Fear

Hundreds of miles wide in its swath of destruction you have no hopes of outrunning or outmaneuvering it. It’s as though Jupiter’s red spot were condensed, concentrated, amplified and transported to earth. The rain falls fat and thick; so thick the atmosphere seems an ocean. Breathing is imagined to be an impossible labor in the midst of this storm. That’s assuming you would even be allowed time enough to take a breath. Hail stones the size of boulders fall with such force they are splintering redwoods. Deep purple and wickedly splintering lightning bolts strike repeatedly within mere feet of one another. Families of F5 tornadoes populate the storm liberally, like hordes of Okies fleeing in the midst of the Dust Bowl.

Yet in your blind terror you find an enchanted cave, or rather it is almost as if it found you. There is as it were an invisible barrier that the storm cannot pass. This does not cause you to belittle or mock the storm. You still fear it. It is your dread. But now your fear is mixed with delight. The cave both allows you to reverence the storm more, for now you more fully can observe its glory, and to delight in it more for you can observe all of this in complete safety. Fear has not been eradicated but transformed into that holy love called reverence. One deep mark of this reverence is a rejoicing and delighting in the cave.

This cleft is Christ, and the storm is the glory of God’s holiness. But Jesus has promised that as we identify with Him we will be persecuted. In this cave there is a serpent. He is a wounded serpent. He is a dying serpent. But He is a dangerous serpent, and he has minions. The whole world is under his sway. But you dare not flee the snake to take your chances with the storm, for you know this; the snake could never defeat the the storm, but the storm has already mostly done in the snake, and is sure to finish the job.

If you love the cleft of Jesus, and reverence the storm of God’s holiness you will not be afraid of the serpent’s threats.

[Adapted from an illustration in The Pleasures of God by John Piper]