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Judgment and Identifying with Others

16 Jan
coming-of-christ

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The phrase, the end is at hand, or one similar to it has become one of the most used phrases in the mouths of the cynics to show the Bible is merely a book composed by men. If this could be preached throughout the 2000 year history of Christianity, how could anyone take the return of Christ seriously? How could anyone take Scripture seriously, when those named as its composers were so wrong about the return of Christ in the first century AD? Certainly, it is claimed by the cynic, the New Testament shows Peter and Paul not only expected Christ to return in their expected lifetimes, but these men, unquestionably the leaders of the Jesus movement in the first century AD, predicted it. And, the accusation is: “They were wrong—pure and simple!”

Is this an accurate testimony of how the New Testament reads? It is not a matter of Peter making a mistake, because he (like we today) expected Christ to return in his expected lifetime. According to how we interpret the Bible, these are not Peter’s words, but the New Testament—all of it—is God’s word. Either the end was at hand or it wasn’t. If Christ didn’t bodily return in the 1st century AD, then we should look for a different meaning for Peter’s words, rather than simply say he was wrong, and as if to pat him on his little pointed head, say, “We understand, and it’s alright!”. The integrity of Scripture is at stake, not the embarrassment of a disciple of God. Either Peter prophesied correctly or he is a false prophet. There is no third choice here, because we are speaking of Scripture. He must have meant that Christ would return and judge Jerusalem and the Temple, just as Jesus told Annas, the high priest (Matthew 26:64; cf. 24:30). Peter had judgment in mind—and Christ’s coming in the clouds of heaven was like God in the Old Testament visiting the nations in judgment (cf. Jeremiah 4:13; Isaiah 19:1; Nahum 1:3).

In view of the above, Peter warned or encouraged his readers to “…be sober and watch unto prayer.” The Greek verb (G4993) is better translated “be temperate” of “be of a sound mind.” The second verb: (G3525) is more accurately translated “be sober” in light of Peter’s commands in verse-3. So, Peter was encouraging his readers to be in control of their emotions, not letting self-indulgence rule their will. Rather, be sober minded so that one could worship in prayer, making the difference. For, God will not act on our behalf, if there is no difference between the behavior of the believer and that of his persecutor.

Peter tells us in 1Peter 4:8 that we should love one another, because love covers an abundance of sins. Whose sins or what sins are in view, and how would that pertain to Peter’s present argument? The context of Peter’s letter concerns persecution. This implies that Peter isn’t speaking of expressing everyday love for the brethren. Rather he refers to expressing that love when it is most needed, visiting a brother during his time of trouble. In other words, showing hospitality without complaint (1Peter 4:9) has to do with identifying with believers who are being persecuted, whose persecutors may include state authorities. This would place the friends of the persecuted brother in an awkward position. At times, some brethren may even think that the brother who is persecuted brought this trouble on himself by being too outspoken or in some other way angering those who hate him. Nevertheless, believers are called upon to love one another without partiality and without blame, identifying with them in their trial.

God’s gifts, pointed to in 1Peter 4:10, are mentioned in the context of persecution. We need to keep in mind that God has had grace upon each of us, the implication being, no one deserves his kindness. Therefore, the thought of whether or not a brother is deserving of our help—i.e. our hospitality—shouldn’t be an issue.

In verse-8 Peter quotes from Proverbs 10:12 – “Hatred sirs up strife: but love covers all sins.” The idea is that hatred breads all sorts of trouble, whether feuds or factious debate, each leading to more and more trouble and ending in greater and greater opposition, perhaps ultimately death. Peter’s advise, if taken to heart, would have brethren help the brother who is persecuted, encouraging him in the word of God (1Peter 4:11),[1] and thereby help him to forgive the wrongdoing of his persecutor. In so doing, more and even greater sins would never be committed. Jesus had compassion for the suffering of others, often bringing persecution upon himself. When we identify with a brother in the time of his trouble, we are privileged to glorify God with our lives by imitating Christ who dwells within us (cf. 1Peter 4:11; Hebrews 12:2).

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[1] The Greek word for oracles (G3051) occurs four times in the New Testament,  and all three other times it refers to Scripture (cf. Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2 and Hebrews 5:12), so this is the proper understanding here at 1Peter 4:11.

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Posted by on January 16, 2017 in Epistles of Peter

 

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