< May 11, 2014 >

Commentary on 1 Peter 2:19-25


 “It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering.” 

This is difficult. But probably not difficult in the way you might think. The truth is that for most of us -- at least for most of us living in the United States -- living the Christian life and being “aware of God” are less than likely to bring us suffering. Suffering, abuse, threats of physical violence; these are not the barriers to the life of faith that many of us will ever face.

The old saw that “the greatest trick the Devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist” (attributed variously to the French poet Charles Baudelaire, or Verbal [Kevin Spacey] from The Usual Suspects [1995]), may be amended a bit along these lines:

The greatest threat to the Christian faith is indifference. It can seem, at times, that we just don’t matter that much. Let me be perfectly clear at this point: I am not suggesting that physical danger is to be desired, nor am I pining for the good-old-days of persecution. But does the current state of affairs, at least in North American culture, render a text like 1 Peter 2:19-25 almost irrelevant?

“For this you have been called. Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.” Is this a call that we need to answer? Can it be answered? Perhaps the call to suffering or even martyrdom will not be sounded for us, at least not explicitly. But we can follow in Christ’s steps, in a figurative sense. Following 1 Peter 2:22-24 here is an attempt to chart the course of following Christ’s example.

Verse 22, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in him,” is an allusion (in the form of a quotation) of Isaiah 53:9, “They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” To take this as an admonition never to sin would be to ask the impossible, but honesty -- as a way of life, in our confession not only of sin but of Christ, in our living out of the calling to which we have been called in Christ. This can be within our grasp.

In verse 23 there is another allusion (this time not set out as a quotation) to Isaiah 53, this time verse 7. The author of 1 Peter writes, “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” This calls to mind the suffering servant as Isaiah imagines him, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.”

Here too is an example that is within our reach: to stay our lips when we are abused (lied about, insulted, defamed), to refrain from responding in kind when we suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” to entrust ourselves -- in every situation -- to our God…these are things that we, like Jesus, can do.

These may not be the sufferings of legend, but they are real. And we called to look to the Christ, and follow his example. This may be a difficult word to preach, but it is one we do well to consider. In a culture that often is given over to a word-based revenge, to foul, lowest-common-denominator rebuttal, to name-calling, the need for some sacrificial silence may be long overdue. This might also be an opportunity for the preacher to exercise some silence.

1 Peter 2:21 is an invitation: “For this you have been called. Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.” Is this a call that we need to answer for our audience? Or is it best left to them -- or better opened up for them -- to answer for themselves?