Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sermon: 1 Peter 3: 1-12 God's True Grace in Families and God's Family

Have you ever realised that you’re being watched? And I don’t just mean your nosy neighbour. They’re not the only ones who are watching your life. While we may not have the paparazzi following our every action, yet there are people who follow what you say and do. How does that make you feel? Uncomfortable? Irritated?

We’re in the letter of 1 Peter, learning about the true grace of God. Peter uses two words to describe Christians: elect exiles. In the early part of the letter he shows how Christians are chosen or elect - receiving the blessings of salvation from God our Saviour, who has given us an imperishable hope by the imperishable blood of the Lord Jesus shed for us, and revealed to us by the imperishable word. We’re chosen, but yet we’re exiles. We’re in this hostile world while we await the day when we will be at home with the Lord. But Peter won’t allow us to sit around waiting. Instead, we’ve seen that he calls us to action.

In 2:11-12 he says this: ‘Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.’ Our honourable deeds will be seen by the world around us, they’re on display, leading to them praising God. We’ve already seen what that looks like in terms of relating to the state, and for slaves.

In this morning’s passage, he moves on to show what that will look like in our families and in God’s family. What will the watching world see as we relate to husbands and wives, and as we relate to each other in the church? What is this honourable conduct? Now in case you think that you’re off the hook, that this doesn’t apply to you - please don’t tune out. If you’re not yet married, this could help in preparing for marriage, as you look for a partner. Or it could be that you can pray for those who are married, for these things.

Just this week there were commemorations of the 69th anniversary of D-Day. As we come to the first verse, it’s as if we’ve landed in the middle of a minefield. [By the way, this is the value of preaching through books of the Bible from start to finish - the preacher doesn’t get to duck the difficult passages or only preach the ‘nice’ bits.] So what does Peter say, and why does he say it? ‘Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands.’

He’s linking what has already been said to this bit about wives - in the same way, accept the authority (or be subject). Now why would Peter say such a thing? Why would we want to read and obey such a command? Doesn’t he realise we’re in enlightened times now, that the feminist movement has brought women’s lib? Isn’t this just outdated nonsense?

Let’s see the reason he gives: ‘so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.’ Peter knows that it’s often likely that Christian wives may have non-Christian husbands. Religion might be seen as a woman’s thing, not something for a real man. The wife’s longing and desire is to see her husband come to faith, but how is that going to happen?

You can try nagging him into the kingdom, but it’s not going to be very successful. There might be some things you get him to do (eventually!), but nagging won’t do it. Rather, Peter says, it’s by your conduct - honourable conduct (2:12) - that they see and are won over. Do you see the pattern at work? As they watch your quiet (indeed, silent) witness over time, they can’t fail to notice your purity and reverence. (link to 2:12)

It’s not just your husband, though, who is watching you. Peter goes on to ask what you’re displaying: ‘Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.’

Peter isn’t saying that you shouldn’t get your hair done, that you shouldn’t have jewellery or clothes. But rather, these shouldn’t be the thing that is most noticeable about you. You see, some give their lives to pursuing trinkets and ornaments - but how valuable are they in the long run? Rather, the gentle and quiet spirit of the inner life is, once again, Peter’s favourite word - imperishable (lasting beauty). Are you becoming eternally beautiful in your spirit, or are you just like a clothes rack? Peter points to an example from scripture - Sarah obeying Abraham, submitting to him.

Now, before the men start to cheer or think that they have it made, Peter turns his attention to you (us). ‘Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honour to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life - so that nothing may hinder your prayers.’

We’re not to lord it over our wives, but rather Peter speaks of consideration and honour. In the things you do, the way you speak to her and of her; in the ways you serve her; do you honour her? You see, it’s not that we’re more important, that we’re of a different order - Peter reminds us that they are ‘also heirs of the gracious gift of life’. It’s not that you’re more chosen than your Mrs. Indeed, it’s so important because God is watching - if we don’t treat our wives with honour, our prayers will be hindered.

(As Peter will go on to quote Ps 34 - God’s ears are open to the prayer of the righteous, but is against those who do evil). So when others at work speak disrespectfully of women, do you join in? Are your eyes only on your wife?

Now in case you’ve drifted off, Peter moves from the specific to the general in verse 8: ‘Finally, all of you...’ How should we relate to each other in God’s family? ‘Have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.’ In any family there are moments of tension, but we’re to still have honourable conduct - so that the watching world sees how these Christians love one another.

Our way of getting on will be startling, it’s not what people are used to - but no more so than how we deal with evil and abuse. ‘Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary, repay with a blessing.’ Our natural sinful desire wants to echo back evil for evil - you’ve wronged me, I’ll get my own back. The way of the elect exile is to be different, to repay with blessings, not curses.

Why? Because in Christ, we have been called to be a blessing, because we have inherited a blessing from him. In Christ, we have received the blessing of eternal life; we’ve been made righteous as we trust in him. We have this certain hope. Therefore, we pass on this blessing to others. We’re changed to become more like Jesus, so that the watching world sees what it’s like to live under the lordship of Jesus, that they too will come and share in his blessing. Now, it’s difficult, but on that day, as our neighbours praise God because they’ve seen our honourable conduct, won’t it all have been worth it? To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever, Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 9th June 2013.

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