The Example of Peter

6 07 2017

Context: 1 Peter

The first epistle of Peter is all about the practical ways that we apply our faith in relation to each other.  It has instructions for our attitudes, our way of living, holiness, our  relations to government and leadership, our relationships in marriages, a perspective on suffering, living our lives with freedom and suffering and how we relate to elders.  Mind you, that’s just a quick summary.  It’s very full of information!  Because of what I know about Peter, I’m not surprised that he’s giving practical advice.  More on that later.

I also want to remind you of something:  this letter was written to exiled people who believed in Christ, and not to a church.  Paul wrote his letters to churches, and Peter has written to specific people.  It was probably a personal letter sent to encourage the people that he knew personally.  Notice that he only identified himself by name and not his audience, which to me, communicates that the people he was writing to, Peter wished to remain anonymous.  Perhaps because they were in political trouble, perhaps for their religious beliefs.  And I also want to point out that from this, we we see that Peter knows that they’re in trouble, indicating that this is part of a series of letters probably exchanged with these people.

From this, we also see that Peter, because of the personal nature, we see he had no intentions of the letter becoming part of the canon of the New Testament, a shared experience of all of the writers of the New Testament.  I think that is worthy of consideration and thought.

As a disciple, we know a lot about Peter, and one of the things that I think Peter never got over is how God chose him, despite all of his flaws and dis-beliefs, he was chosen.  His faith, with all of its questions and insecurities were enough to build a church upon.  When he was killed for his beliefs, he asked to be crucified upside down, because he did not see himself as worthy of the same death of crucifixion as the Christ.  He died a martyrs death, for professing his faith, and refusing to renounce it.  His story is something, if nothing else, another story of how God uses ordinary, imperfect people to share his story of love, his gifts of grace.

Today’s scripture comes from 2 Peter 1:3-11.  I’m dividing it up into three sections, and I’ll identify these three sections according to my commentary sections.

vs 3-4:  Promises:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

One of the things that I identify with in Peter, is my constant insecurity over whether or not I am able to be used by God despite my lack of faith, my past or my experiences.  Sometimes, I lack trust, sometimes I lack confidence.  Sometimes, I lack security.  I have major performance anxiety and just anxieties in general.  And Peter man, he constantly failed Jesus.  He denied him three times, he failed to trust him when he was walking on water, and he was selfish.  We sometimes like to puff ourselves up and like to pick on Peter, claiming that we’d be able to walk on water if the Lord commanded us.  Peter, I love you because you’re so human and you’re so relate-able to those of us who are like me.  I believe that if I were in the middle of the sea and God told me to get out of the boat, I’d look around for another boat to jump into, or a life jacket or something.  I wouldn’t get out of the boat in the first place, probably.  My confidence as a disciple is shaken, when I fail to get out of the boat.  And the royal screw-ups of Peter?  On my own, I could never recover from that.

But Peter did!  Look at what he says.  He says that we’ve been given everything that we need by God to live out this life of faith.  Everything  We’ve been given the courage, the confidence, the power and the courage that we need.  We’ve been given this life to live, according to the knowledge of God and who God is, simply because God has called us to be his.  Peter figured it out.  He had been given everything that he needed in order to live out the life that he was supposed to.  Jesus knew that Peter had it, because he identified Peter as the one that he would be building his church on his shoulders.

Wow.  What a promise!  Peter, with his fumblings and stumblings, to be the rock that Jesus would build his church on!  What a big thing!  Peter knew about promises.  One thing that he knew is that he, Peter, broke them.  Remember the last supper?  Where he promised that he would never denounce Jesus?  How, later, he did so three times, only a few hours later.  Through it all, in his lifetime, Peter realized something about promises.  He realized that although he (Peter) couldn’t keep them, God always did.  He probably realized that Jesus recognized the value of Peter long before Peter realized his own value.  When Peter became a believer, Jesus knew he would one day become a leader in the faith because God had already given him the promised gifts he would need.  He would have the gift of leadership, of vision, of commitment, and they were already embedded within Peter when Jesus made that promise to him by re-naming him.  Peter probably didn’t really understand what it meant when Jesus gave him that promise, but like our salvation, he would understand it better later on.

In the same way, I hope that we recognize that we have been given everything that we need to live a godly life, and I hope that we see these things as promises as well.  Promises to sustain, promises that lead, promises that verify our calling and identity.  These are the gifts that sustain us when things get hard.  When I became a believer, I remember praying the prayer, and I was climbing the stairs of the building afterwards, and I felt something.  The only way that I can describe it was like my heart had exploded.  I wasn’t exploding, my heart wasn’t racing, but it was like this great big open spot was now there in my chest.  It was different.  In different times of my life, times of doubt, I have remembered that aftermath of explosion with in me.  And bit by bit, it’s like all of the learning I do, I fill up those spaces.  But that empty space?  According to this scripture, I’m now going to call it my promise.  The promise of things to come.

vs 6-9:  Building Blocks of Growth

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

We are told in churches to grow our faith.  We talk about how we need to grow and get to know God more and how we need to—–well, you get the picture.  I’d like to take you back to the example of Peter.

We know that Peter tried to walk on water and then he failed?  Why did he fail?  Because he got afraid, looked at the water and took his eyes, his trust off of the one who told him to walk on the water in the first place.  Jesus was already there, he was already on top of the water, he told him to jump out.  But Peter lost sight of the one who was leading him.

Let’s contrast that with another Peter story.  Picture it, day of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit came down as Jesus had promised that helper and it filled the room.  Filled them.  Peter arose, he stands up and begins preaching about Jesus.  From this moment on, he becomes a leader of the disciples, it is because of his words and obedience, that the first church is founded among believers.  Jesus’ promise fulfilled!  Church was born out of Peter, even though he got afraid on the waves.

Woah.  What’s the difference?  How could it go from a sinking, floundering person, a denier of the Christ and a doubter, to being a courageous, strong and secure person who births’ the first church? It’s all because of growth.  I think Peter used his near drowning experience to teach him, his doubts to affirm him, and his denials to motivate him.  Something happened to Peter, and he grew so much.  It seems like the denial would be a hiccup to his growth, because true growth is hardly, if ever, linear, but a maze that is often disorienting.

I love how Peter describes this process through in his letter.  He makes it like building blocks, no doubt representative of his own growth.  Each step is like building blocks.  Each step is because of the previous step.  I don’t have the capacity to expand very much on each of the steps, but I will do a quick summary.  He says that the first step is moral righteousness.  If we are honest, that righteousness step/entry into heaven, is our first motivation and reason for faith.  From that, we grow to knowledge, the mental aspect to our faith.  This is an “academic” understanding of God and scripture.  From that, we realize our need of self-control, because our knowledge exposes places where we still have to become better and more godly.  That leads to perseverance, because self-control, man, it’s a beast.  It’s difficult to stay in control of whatever thoughts or actions that we find difficult to shake.  As we persevere through these sufferings and many more, we move into godliness and understand the purpose of our sufferings.  From that, we develop mutual affection, which from my understandings, means empathy for others and sharing in burdens.  From that, develops love, and love for others is the embodiment of our faith, it’s the way that Jesus said his disciples would be recognized.

Because of these building blocks, Peter says that we continue to grow and we will remain important to the faith, and will will remain engaged, vibrant.  Alive.

Peter also addresses a very different type of believer.  He says that if we don’t build on our faith and grow in the faith, then we are ineffective.  We are nearsighted, we can only see the present troubles right in front of us, not the greater glory.  We can only concern ourselves with the things of the world, because that’s all that we can see.  He calls believers that aren’t growing towards love as blind, because without growth, they cannot see their neighbor as worthy of love.  We cannot see when God is working and moving.  We cannot see how to help others.  And we can never get past our past.  We can never allow someone else’s past to get past their past in our eyes.  We can’t forget, and we can’t forgive.

If we are the latter of the two, there is no growth, and salvation is basically fire protection.  It’s not a changed, transformed way of life.  If we use Peter as an example, the latter is not like Peter’s experience.

vs 10-11:  Go the Distance

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned earlier, Peter died on an upside down cross, thinking himself as unworthy of the same measure of death as Christ.  The called rock, founder of the church, given a criminal’s death.  After his denial of Christ, all evidence points to that moment being a turning point in Peter’s life and faith.  He grew from that period, and I hope he never returned to the doubting self, but used his experiences to grow.  He remembered the call that Jesus had laid on his life and he did something about it.  He stayed the course and finished his life as the founder of the church.

Because of our growth, Peter says that we should be firm in our salvation and in our growth of God.  That we should not be insecure about our salvation.  If anyone had a chance of being insecure, Peter is among them, and he says that we should be secure.  He didn’t remain insecure, because he already knows where he stands.  He knows his value in Christ.

Which is more than a lot of us can say, because if Peter looked at the church right now, I don’t think he’d see a strong, secure body.  I honestly think he’d liken us to a bunch of toddlers crying because our blankey is in the wash.  He’d call us out because we get our feelings hurt and claim injustice, while our literal neighbors are starving.  I think he’d tell us to get our eyes back on Jesus, and not on the waves, because he knows that’s why he began to sink.  I think he’d tell us to love each other instead of focusing on beautiful buildings and important programming.  I think he’d tell us that our faith and trust needs to be strong enough to not only endure the good times, but also the bad times.  That we can’t abandon our beliefs just because someone hurt our feelings.

But if we stick with it, and we keep a holy growth, we keep our calling close in our minds, then look what God can do through us.  Look what he could do.  After all, it was the denier, the fearful of downing Peter that God built his church upon.  Truly, if God can use Peter, the butt of our scorn to build a church, how could he use us as well?

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