Peter is writing to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor who have been experiencing trials and difficulties. Peter warns that in the near future they will have to face significant persecution – described in 4:12 as a ‘painful (lit. ‘fiery’) trial’. They need encouragement and Peter provides this by reminding them of the great foundation truths of the faith on which their eternal welfare rests. He has much to say about the work of Christ and its results for those who put their trust in him. We consider the encouragement offered in 1 Peter 1:18-19 A Lamb without blemish.
1. An empty life
Peter provides a vivid description of ‘the empty way of life’ from which they have been saved. Life lived according to man’s fallen nature is characterised by aimlessness – ‘the futility of their thinking’ (Ephesians 4:17). As we look around we see that the lives of many are aimless, with no idea of why they are in the world or how they ought to live. If there is no God to whom we are answerable, why not live to please ourselves? This is true of both younger people and older people, even though the ways in which such futility shows itself vary considerably. Like the rich farmer in Luke 12:20 they are fools in God’s sight. This way of life is ‘handed down to you from your forefathers’ – the sinful nature we inherit from Adam asserts itself in every generation. As Ecclesiastes 1:2 states the matter – such a life is ‘vanity’ – emptiness, meaninglessness. It offers no lasting fruit (see Romans 6:21).
2. A useless payment
There are those who, for various reasons, come to realise the emptiness of such a godless life and seek to produce their own solution. Sin, however, still warps their thinking and they seek redemption through ‘silver and gold’. This sums up all man’s attempts to save himself. He may depend on good works or try to avoid sin by his own willpower. Some rely on religious observances, such as church attendance or presence at Communion. This also shows itself in the popularity of various religions and cults. None of these ways is a solution. All are condemned as ‘perishable’ – none produces lasting results. Good works apart from faith promote pride and self-reliance. We cannot possibly pay our debt of sin – ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6). All hopes offered by these ways are delusions, of no value in God’s sight. Something greater than we can provide is needed.
3. A costly redemption
Peter speaks of Christians being ‘redeemed’ – a ransom must be paid if we are to be released from the captivity of sin. We are slaves of sin and Satan, standing under the broken law of God which brings on us his holy wrath. The cost is ‘the precious blood of Christ’ – the fact is that, because sin is so serious, ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). It seems Peter has in mind the Passover lamb by which the Israelites were redeemed (Exodus 66). Jesus the Lamb of God shed his blood to redeem the people of God – Titus 2:14, Mark 10:45. He is the sinless One – ‘without blemish or defect’. He has done all we need and we can rejoice in the amazing love of God revealed in the death of the Lamb.
The last letter Paul wrote was 2 Timothy, written from prison around 66-67AD. He refers to ‘my chains’ (1:16) and he knows there will be no release this time. He will go out to execution – ‘the time has come for my departure’ (4:6). He is concerned for his ‘spiritual son’ Timothy, pastor in Ephesus. Timothy seems to have had a timid disposition and Paul is concerned that he may be intimidated by the sufferings of the apostle and his ministry will be damaged (see v8). The antidote is to focus on the Lord and his work of salvation. Consider 2 Timothy 1:9-10 The God who saves and calls.
1. The purpose of God
Note Paul’s call – ‘do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord or ashamed of me his prisoner’ (v8). There are many factors in our present situation that could cause us to be ashamed of the Lord and his servants. Paul’s call is to ‘join with me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God’. This leads to a powerful summary of the heart of the gospel we are to believe and proclaim. The ‘power of God’ is demonstrated above all in the fact that he ‘has saved us’ (v9) through the work of Christ ‘our Saviour’ (v10). He sets us free from all that holds us spiritual prisoners. We also see the power of God in the fact that he ‘called us to a holy life’ (literally ‘called you with a holy calling’). This is God’s sovereign, effective call, the work of the Holy Spirit that inevitably results in repentance and faith. It is the inner call that brings the gospel home to the sinner’s heart. The effective call of God transforms sinners. This is ‘not because of anything we have done’ (v9). We cannot contribute to salvation. It is rather ‘because of his own purpose and grace’, not motivated by anything outside himself. The heart of the gospel is salvation by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8).
2. The provision of God
- Grace bestowed: ‘grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time’. This is the eternal election of sinners to salvation. It is the action of pure divine love, establishing a covenant union with Christ before any of us existed. Full provision for our salvation by grace was made in eternity, but that does not mean that we are saved before we are born again and brought to Christ in this life. God’s grace assures us that the point of response will come.
- Grace revealed: ‘but it has now been revealed’ (v10). We are now in the arena of time and history – ‘the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus’. In view is the first coming of Christ – the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Son of God incarnate. This is the redeeming mission that flows from grace and election. Paul highlights the issue of death – the spiritual death that is the result of sin (Genesis 2:17), including bodily death. Paul deals with 2 aspects of the issue:
– negatively: Christ ‘has destroyed death’, having dealt with sin and hence with the penalty for sin. Death’s dominion and fear have been removed.
– positively: Christ ‘brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’. He gives ‘life…to the full’ (John 10:10) for both body and soul, with the hope of resurrection.
Mr Joe Watson
Mr Joe Watson
Greek culture in ancient times put great emphasis on physical perfection, an outlook reflected in Greek art with its representations of human figures that would never be encountered in the real world. Curiously this sat alongside a view that the material world was of no value compared to the spiritual. Even in our culture great stress can be put on certain standards of physical perfection. Writing to young Timothy, Paul sets out the true priorities for God’s servants. Consider 1 Timothy 4:7-8 Train yourself for godliness.
- The foolishness to avoid
Paul’s concern for Timothy is that he becomes ‘a good minister of Christ Jesus’ (v6). One element in that project is that he avoid certain things: ‘Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales’ (v7). Probably Paul does not have the false teaching of v1-5 in mind, but rather the ‘false doctrines’ mentioned in 1:3 – ‘myths and endless genealogies’. Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid all forms of false teaching, described as ‘godless’. The warning of v7 is strong – ‘have nothing to do with’. The path to spiritual health and fruitful service for all studiously avoids all false teaching and seeks ‘truths of the faith…good teaching’ (v6).
2. The training to pursue
Paul’s call to ‘train yourself for godliness (ESV) sets out a contrast:
(i). Physical training. It is of ‘some value’ (v8) – the Bible does not despise the body, since it is God’s good creation and is included in salvation. The body should be cared for, but not idolised. This verse provides God-honouring priorities.
(ii). Godliness. Paul says ‘godliness has value for all things’ -all of life is included. It is the core of what a Christian is and how he lives. Godliness is built on a saving relationship with Christ, who is ‘the mystery of godliness’ (3:16). Godliness is possible only because we are united to Christ and are being transformed into his likeness. It is necessary to ‘train yourself for godliness’ – there is a process of growth. Godliness is the spiritual environment in which Christians thrive. This requires action on our part, using the means of grace God provides (2 Peter 1:3). God’s provision fills us with hope.
3. The life to enjoy
Paul offers great encouragement as we walk the path of godliness – ‘holding promise’ – the promise of God to his faithful people. He promises ‘life’ (2 Timothy 1:1) – Christ brings life in its fulness (John 10:10). This is the life we were created for:
(i). The present life. The fellowship with God lost in the fall is being restored in Christ – the life that alone brings joy, satisfaction and blessing.
(ii). The life to come. For believers the best is still to come, when we are ‘at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8), with perfection at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:52).
The congregation in Corinth had many problems, placed as it was in a city notorious for idolatry and immorality. The situation was made worse by internal problems. Converts brought much baggage into the church after conversion. One of the greatest problems was party spirit, leading to divisions. Paul refers to this issue in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. In reply Paul states the equality of the workers doing the Lord’s work. We consider his description of Christian workers in 1 Corinthians 3:9 God’s fellow workers.
1. The call
Paul stresses that gospel work is ultimately God’s work, done by his power and at his direction, but in his infinite wisdom he uses chosen workers like Paul, Apollos and us. The key term is grace – ‘By the grace given me’ (v10). This is evident in two ways:
(i). Salvation. God’s people are ‘called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28), predestined, called and justified (Romans 8:30). This is the ‘effectual call’ (Shorter Catechism Q31), the work of the Holy Spirit which enables a response of repentance and faith. Apart from this call, no-one can be a worker for the Lord.
(ii). Service. The call to salvation includes a call to service. All of the Lord’s people are included – ‘servants…as the Lord has assigned to each his task’ (v5). We see here the sovereignty of God. The leaders of the church are ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service’ (Ephesians 4:12) – for every aspect of the task the Lord assigns his church.
2. The privilege
We must never forget we are servants (v5), but consider whose servants we are. We are ‘God’s fellow workers’ (v9). In the context of disunity in Corinth, Paul stresses that all those called to salvation and service form ‘one body’ (12:12). It is a great privilege to be united in the Lord’s service. But there may well be a greater aspect to the privilege – Paul may be intending to say that ‘God’s fellow workers’ are not only working for God, but also with God. In grace and condescension God brings his people into partnership in building his church. Of course it is not an equal partnership – God ‘makes things grow’ (v7) – but he confers an amazing privilege on us. This truth should delight and humble us.
3. The ministry
The ministry of God’s fellow workers is described using two pictures:
(i). Agriculture. They plant and water (v7). They are ‘God’s field’ The Word is sown and nurtured, so that the church is established and a crop is produced.
(ii). Building. By God’s enabling a beautiful and harmonious whole is produced.
Work will be tested at the last day (v13) and faithful work will receive a reward (v14).