Christian Living in a Hostile World
1 Peter 2:17-25
Landisville Mennonite Church
November 18, 2012
By Nelson Okanya
EMM’s mission vision:
Serving together we share God’s love, empower Christ like leaders and nurture spirit inspired partnership to create transforming communities of worship among all peoples.
Landisville Mennonite Mission Statement:
“Joining with Christ in God’s work.”
We are an Anabaptist congregation: a Christ centered people whose lives and witness proclaim the message of peace in Christ. In the places we live and work, we join with others toward a growing relationship with Jesus and nurture relationships that reflect the character of Christ.
I see that you have begun a series on “Being God’s people in a strange new world” I could not agree more. Last year we were invited to resource three districts and the bishop chose as the title of the seminar “We are not in Kansas any more” Over thirty years ago a respected personality in the field of education raised an important questions in regards to the state of our children’s faith as follows:
“It appears that as Christian faith has diminished, the schooling-instructional paradigm has encouraged us to busy ourselves with teaching about Christian religion. Our personal commitment to Christ has lapsed, many church persons have turned for solace to teaching children what the Bible says, what happened in the history of the church, what we believe, and what is right and wrong… But there is a great difference between learning about the Bible and living as a disciple of Jesus Christ” –(John H Westerhoff)
Let me briefly describe our world in terms of God’s mission today:
Three Visits From Outer Space
Professor Andrew Walls, a well-known missiologist, pretends that an alien from outer space makes repeated visits to Planet Earth at different stages of world history. And writes, “If we were that alien, what have we seen on a “fly by” that occurred at the end of the First Century AD? As we looked down from our space ship through our spiritual goggles, we would see a robust strain of Christianity flash out of the Middle East. It lit a path all the way from Jerusalem to Rome. By the time of our first “fly by,” one million believers were involved. Some would be slaves, some from royal household of Caesar. What would catch the observant eye, however, is that while there was this one blinding pathway of spiritual light, the rest of the planet in Africa’s interior, Asia, and Latin America remained in total darkness with not a spark of spiritual hope to be found.
The second visit to Planet Earth would not come until the beginning of the 20th Century. Around 1905 we would find the landscape of Christendom totally redefined. The stronghold of Christianity would no longer be the Middle East. In fact the light that had shone so brightly in places like Palestine, Turkey, and Greece had all but flickered out. Instead the bright spots of Christianity had moved to Britain, Western Europe and especially over into the New Worlds of North America, Australia and New Zealand. These “bright spots” in the so called “Western World” now made up 95% of all the Christians in the world – and from them boatloads of missionaries were pouring out into the far-flung reaches of the planet.
Our third “fly by” takes place a whole century later, in 2004. Again the landscape of Christianity has changed dramatically. The lights are still low in the Middle East and throughout Central Asia. Lights, which had once burned brightly in the Western world, are still shining – but the luster of those lights has somehow dimmed. In fact in some countries like Canada, New Zealand, UK and Australia where a fire once blazed, the flames are lower now, and in other places the logs that burned brightly a century ago are reduced to a flicker. The amazing thing, however, is that the sparks of the Gospel have jumped
to other parts of the world. Now the fire burns in Chile, Brazil, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Nepal, Korea ñ– and especially in China! In fact, where 95% of the believers had been in the Western world in 1905, now over 70% of the believers on Planet Earth are in Africa, Latin America and Asia.”
If professor Walls is right and we have plenty of research to prove the point which I do not have time to share with you this morning then 1 Peter might be instructive for us as God’s people living in a strange new world. The current state of affairs in our world is similar to the world the first Christians inhabited. Like us, they were a minority in a majority culture, a culture that was not particularly friendly to the gospel and to their way of life as followers of king Jesus. The non-Christian majority ostracized them and Peter’s letter was meant to encourage them and to give them some pointers on how to live as disciples of Jesus in such a hostile environment. Shockingly to our post-modern sensibilities, Peter did not ask them to pray to be tolerated or honored by the majority; instead Peter exhorted them to honor their persecutors and to treat them with respect.
Peter both encouraged the Christian community to “be ye separate” while at the same time remaining engaged through witness to the larger culture by honoring and respecting everyone. On Friday we listened to Yale Divinity School professor Miroslav Volf present a lecture on “Honor and respect.” Dr Volf told us that we are to honor and respect everyone simply because God created them and loves them. There are no qualifiers; it is a command of scripture. This does not mean that we have to agree with everybody, we must learn to distinguish from the person and the works a person does. We must concentrate on the mindset of intolerance not the regime of intolerance and he pointed to 1 Peter as a model for Christians who have been formed from the inside by Jesus Christ. Peter instructed these believers not to seek to be tolerated and honored but rather to tolerate and honor their persecutors. Be centered in Christ not on polarities.
My former professor George Brunk III pointed out to us at a conference recently that the suffering theme in 1 Peter was a kind of sporadic suffering; social discrimination, ostracizing, social bullying, etc and more generally the “attempts to undermine the rights of a minority by the majority.” Therefore, Peter sought to encourage these Christians using words such as a ‘refiner’s fire’ to encourage them to live and tell their story with confidence amidst the hostilities of their day. Contrary to some allusion that Peter was acculturating and somehow softening the edges and the demands of Gospel’, such an allusion could not be far from the truth in fact Peter presents a rather vigorous response to the challenges these Christians were facing argued Dr Brunk. But as Peter reminded his hearers, we must remember that our salvation is first and foremost by grace. “My main point is to urge and bear witness to you that this grace, in which you stand, is the true grace of God.” (1Pet. 5:12). God did all this! It was divine initiative (1 Pt. 1:1, 13,), God’s grace is a transforming grace; it is a pure gift that flows from God to us and then through us to the world.
This understanding ought therefore to inform how we live in the world. When we respond with grace, we honor and respect others in our relationships. Yes, we can honor and respect them while disagreeing with their position in love. We must remember to present their positions accurately as an aspect of honoring them. According to Peter, such a response allows us to receive favor before the Lord, “Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world.” (1 pet. 2:12, see also vs. 21-25). It is a grace in the presence of God that grows out of human action but receives the favor of God “an inter-change between God and us” says Dr Brunk. This implies that Grace and ethics are not isolated from each other as Detrich Bonhoeffer ably reminds us in The Cost of Discipleship, grace and discipleship must go hand in hand. This grace however is God’s free gift to us, which we ought to reflect back to God in our action. When this happens, we are being missional and faithful disciples of Jesus in hostile world.
As we seek to walk with the Lord, the Lord will empower us to do what he has called us to do. (1 Pet. 1:4-10). We ought therefore to speak and serve on behalf of God. If speaking, we must do so as if speaking for God, if serving, we must do so as unto God.
Peter develops some instructive values for Christians in a hostile world (George Brunk III helped name some of these for me):
• Honor: The majority uses shame as an instrument to silence the minority. Our lord Jesus was subjected to shaming but he did not return in kind. Looking to Jesus as an example, Peter reverses the majority’s strategy by saying that honor belongs to the believer. Honor belongs to you who believe while shame belongs to the non-believer who ostracizes you for believing the Gospel (4:16; 1:7). But the way this happens is by Christians being instruments of honor and respect even in the midst of persecution.
• Imperishable: Not the Perishable by by the precious blood of Christ. The imperishable quality of the gospel far surpasses the value of gold (1:3-4; 1:18-19). Therefore, prepare to be refined as you live your faith in a hostile world.
• Hope-Not futility: Salvation is to be revealed. We are encouraged to make the future redemption our guiding truth in the present (1:5; 1:18-21).
• Identity- As God’s people saved by grace, you are now a people, and you belong to God! You are a disciple in the community of the Messiah participating in God’s mission in the world (2:10; 2:5).
-God’s action and purpose and our actions coincide to give God glory and to carry forward God’s mission in the world.
-Will our faith have Children?