Commentary on 1 Peter 1:17-23
On the Second Sunday after Easter the given text was I Peter 1.3-9 This week’s assigned text covers part of the remainder of I Peter 1, i.e. vv. 17-23. In our treatment we will consider all the remaining verses of I Peter 1, which includes vv. 10-16 and vv. 24, 25.
Many interpreters of this epistle see vv. 3-9 as the indicative of the gospel and vv. 13-25 as the imperatives of the gospel. It may be clearer to say that when Peter calls on his readers to take up the life of the baptized he majors in making the indicative known. The imperatives of Christian living are almost drowned out by his emphasis on the indicatives of grace.
Vv. 13-25 have been called “the charge to the baptized.” It is a section of I Peter where indicative and imperative are completely comingled with each other. Our first recommendation for a sermon on this text would be a sermon that unpacks this indicative/imperative reality for our hearers. “Becoming Who You Are” would be an apt title for this sermon. This sermon could begin by telling stories of the power of the indicative tense in people’s real lives. A story could be told, for example, about a couple’s experience in their wedding ceremony. The point always comes in the service where the leader says: “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” This word does what it says! The leader indicates that something new has come into being through the instrumentality of a spoken word!
A second story could be of a person who was in position to get a promotion and a hefty salary raise at her place of work. There was much consternation in the office on the day that the indication of who would receive this advancement was to be announced. The candidates filed into the bosses’ office one by one. Finally Pam went in. She was afraid. And then she heard the word announced over her: “Pam, congratulations. The promotion is yours.” This word does what it says. With the sound of a few words a big chunk of Pam’s world changed.
The indicative words of grace in the text today are in vv. 15, 18, 21, 23. We will need to explicate these powerful indicative words for our congregation. God’s speaks words over us and it is so! Our world is changed. We are new people.
And then we move to the imperatives of the gospel: 13, 14, 22. The call to neighbor love in v. 22 is probably the most important of the imperatives. Being a Christian is all about being loved by God as the empowering action that enables us to love our neighbor. New people do new things. That’s the message here. As some have put it, we are called to become who we are. The Christian doesn’t seek to live out the imperatives of the gospel to become a Christian. The Christian lives out the imperatives because she/he is a Christian. Through the living sacrifice of our lives for our neighbors we continually become who we are.
A second sermon possibility is related to the first. It would be a sermon about the nature and meaning of the Word of God. There is much debate in our churches on this matter today. The debate is usually focused on the Bible as Word of God. The emphasis in the text is that, “…that word is the good news that was announced to you.” V. 25. Theologians like Karl Barth and many others have instructed us that the phrase “Word of God” has three meanings:
1. Primarily the Word of God is God’s spoken word that has the power to create what it announces. We might think of God’s creation creating words in Genesis or the promise-keeping words addressed to Israel in Genesis 12.1-3 and II Samuel 7.11-16. God announces and it comes to pass.
2. Word of God is also word made flesh in the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. Jesus is God with skin on! As incarnation of God’s Word, Jesus could announce new realities: the blind saw, the deaf heard, the dead were raised and so forth. Jesus spoke a word and something new came into being.
3. The Bible is Word of God. People encounter God in the scriptures and new things happen in human lives. Martin Luther thought it was unfortunate that the Word of God had to be written. He called that a “quenching of the Sprit.” Luther preferred to speak of the living word rather than the word as book. The Word of God, he wrote, was to be a living and active word; a word alive in the ears of the hearer. Luther might have gotten this insight from v. 25 of today’s text where the word of God is identified with the living voice of preaching.
In v. 23-25: we hear that we have been “born anew” through the “living and enduring word of God”…. That word is the good news that was announced to you.” We are born anew through an announcement of good news! That announcement could be the heart of a sermon on God’s Word.
The good news of God’s announcement of grace could be matched with several aspects of the human condition. To give just one example we can mention our mortality. We hear challenging messages from the world around us: “You have only one life so why not live it up.” “You are a nobody in this universe and you are on a one way track to death.” “You are a nobody.” Words like these seek to define our lives. They are powerful and seductive.
But there is another word! “That word is the good news that was announced to you.” V. 25. You are born anew as a new being through the preaching of the word. You are born anew in baptism and your new life will never perish. You are born anew through the bread and wine and words of the Lord’s Supper. You are born anew through the life giving power of the words of scripture. Thanks be to God for God’s life-giving word!