Today, as we continue with our series on 1 Peter, we come now to the pivotal passage in the letter. We will look at 1 Peter 2:11-12. We can take this passage as the summation of what has gone before(2:1-10) and the thematic statement of the more specific ethical exhortations that follows. The thematic summary is structured this way: (1) the present exile condition of Peter’s audience (2:11a), (2) an exhortation to good behavior (2:11b), and (3) the purpose of the good behavior (2:12). These themes then are expounded in particular situations that Christians encounter : (1) in their relationship to government (2:13-17), (2) in their relationship to masters (2:18-25), (3) in their relationship to their non-Christian husbands (3:1-6), (4) in their relationship to their wives (3:7), and (5) in their relationship to the Christian family of God (3:8-12). The theme of suffering is then developed in 3:13 – 4:6, after which an exhortation to the family of God finishes off the exhortations (4:7-11).However, we will be focusing only on verses 11-12 of chapter 2 today.
What we need to see in verses 11-12, are the two most important issues in the world. How we see its importance distinguishes the elect exiles of God from the unbelieving world. The rest of the world does not believe that these two issues are the main issues that everyone must reckon with.
The two issues are the salvation of the soul of man, and the glory of God. The former is penultimate, but the latter is ultimate. That is, salvation is a means to the greater display of the glory of God in the lives of His people. Now, what verse 11 presupposes is that the soul of man is in grave danger. It is in danger of losing the war for its salvation, because its passion is not the display of God’s glory. Salvation then, at least in part, is God creating new passions for His glory in the soul of man. Therefore salvation is not ultimate, glory is. So the two great issues of the Bible are how the soul of man might not be destroyed and how the glory of God might not be belittled.
Now I get the salvation piece from verse 11b, and the glory piece from verse 12 d. Later we will look at how salvation, which is here winning the war waged against our soul, a means to God’s greater glory. But before we go there we must first see and feel the gravity of these two great issues.
Exile Mentality(vv. 11)
Notice that Peter already mentioned that true Christians are foreigners, and exiles on earth twice (in 1:1 and 1:17). And now in verse 11 he mentions it a third time, “Beloved, I urge you as foreigners and exiles . . . ” It is implied then that the designation “exile in this world” is very important to Peter, and since he regard it as important, we too should regard it likewise. But the question is why? Answer: because it will help us restore a sense of the weightiness of God and His importance in the world if we remember that we are aliens and exiles. Therefore we must cultivate a mindset of an exile. This will help us not to grow fond of the things of the world but instead grow in our knowledge of God’s majesty and worth. So as exiles in this world, we don’t assume that what the world thinks is helpful to our souls or that it glorifies God. We don’t just assume that what some popular pages or personalities on social media or TV promote is helpful to our soul and to the greater display of God’s glory. As John Piper once said that, “We don’t assume that any of this glorifies God. We stop and we think and we consult the Wisdom of our own country, heaven, and we don’t assume that the conventional wisdom of this age is God’s wisdom. We get our bearings from God in his Word.”
So by seeing yourselves as exiles, you stop being swept by what’s trending. That is because thinking like an exile enables you to assess what is good for the soul and what honors God in all things .You don’t consult some self help gurus or empowerment Facebook pages for wisdom on how to live your lives. But sadly there are many so called Christians today, who would rather take their cues on how to raise their children, or on how to spend their wealth and time from motivational speakers than from the word of God. But as God’s elect exiles we inquire His word for wisdom, and we subject everything to it. We don’t make the word of God relevant, but instead we assess the relevance of all things by it.
Stages of the War
Now in order to fight and come out victorious in this battle for the soul and battle for the glory of God we need to see where the battle is fought or the stages of the war. The battle is fought first at the level of our minds, then at the level of our desires and then at the level of our behavior—first is what we know, then what we feel, and only then at what we do. To reverse this sequence is deadly.
Battle of the Mind
Peter already told us in 1 Peter 1:13-16 that we need to prepare our minds for action and be sober-minded so that we might set our hope fully on the grace of God. And hope is a new passion brought about by preparing our minds. We’re also told that the sinful passions are coming from our former ignorance. So to win the battle of desires we must first win the battle of the mind. That’s what chapter 1 is all about. Peter is telling us what we need to know. Now to qualify what I’m saying here, let me say that knowledge without the illuminating work of the Spirit is already a battle lost. What precedes the war against our former passions is God’s work of regeneration in our soul. That’s what we saw from 1:3.
Battle of the Desires
Now the second level or stage of the war is the battle of the desires. We are told in 1 Peter 1:14 that our conduct conforms with our passions. Or as what Jonathan Edwards would say, we always do the greatest inclination at a given moment. So if your inclination, desire, or passion is that which is coming from your former ignorance then you’ll likely not to abstain from the passions of the flesh. But we are told in 1 Peter 2:11 to abstain from those passions. So in order to win this battle of desires, we must first cultivate an even greater inclination or passion for the things of God. We should fight passions with more powerful passions. We fight the promises of sin with greater promises of holiness. Therefore to do this we must remedy our ignorance.
Battle of Conduct
Verse 11 says that it is the “passions of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” So Peter says abstain or to keep away from them. Then in verse 12 Peter says we should keep our “conduct” excellent, that is honorably beautiful. The participle seems to be functioning as the result of our abstinence from fleshly passions. This is the same pattern we saw in 1:14-15. “Don’t conform to the desires of your former ignorance, but . . . be holy in all your conduct.”
Now if we start the battle of desires without being equipped with the knowledge of a hopeful future in God’s grace, we’ll likely lose, because by default we always do the bidding of the flesh. And if we start with the battle of conduct without being equipped with right desires, we will lose because we’ll just obey the commands legalistically and hypocritically. Legalistic and hypocritical obedience is nothing but conformity with the passions of the flesh. A conduct or behavior is not excellent, beautiful or honorable if it is not flowing from right desires. Jesus said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence”(Matthew 23:25). Not only that, but it also points to self instead of pointing to God’s glorious grace.
The result then is that we lose both the war for the soul and the war for God’s glory.
Now does excellent behavior which is flowing from a right desire, that’s coming from true knowledge of the hope that we have in future grace glorify God? The answer, I think, is given in 1 Peter 3:15 “Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” What they see is some external action, and what they ask about is your internal hope. They will ask about your hope, even when they slander you: where do you get your confidence, your contentment, your satisfaction? Why aren’t you returning evil for evil? How can you have such contentment and satisfaction in the midst of loss? How can you give even to the point of denying yourselves of comfort. The answer perhaps is that you must be hoping not in what the world usually hope in. And your only defense or answer is the grace of God.
Therefore such manner of life points to God’s glory because they point to an unshakable satisfying object of desire and hope that is not of this world. So glorify God by abstaining from the passions of the flesh, that is have an exilic mentality and focus your desires on God so that your hope is in him and not in this world, and the result will be an emerging beauty of behavior that conquers all slander and finally brings praise to God.