I have written this short letter to encourage you, and to testify that this is
the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.
1 Peter 5:12
I read William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” and think I am reading today’s news. The Nobel Prize winning Yeats wrote the poem while observing the cultural wreckage after the First World War. Yeats grieved for what he saw:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Many people today, like Yeats, grieve for what they see going on in our nation. It seems that the center cannot hold and things are slipping away. The “best” seemingly lack “all conviction”, while the “worst” are full of hatred and contempt. Any Christ-follower is left wondering what to do? Where is Christ leading us today?
Along with reading Yeats’, I like even more to read Peter, the man Jesus fondly called “The Rock” (Matthew 16:18). Peter knew a lot about faithfully following Jesus when the center could not hold and the world was crashing around him.
I like to begin reading Peter in his first letter addressed “To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Peter writes to fellow Christ-followers who are literally “dispersed” (diaspora), or “scattered”, throughout the region of modern northern Turkey. They are reeling from Nero’s persecution of Christians whom he falsely blamed for the Great Fire of Rome in A. D. 64.
Peter writes from the eye of the storm, Rome, which he refers to in code as “Babylon” in the letter’s last chapter (5:13). Peter will soon be crucified upside down by Nero for the crime of being a Christ-follower. He acknowledges in his letter that following Jesus can be difficult, warning that more false accusation and persecution are on the way (see 2:12; 3:14-16; 4:14).
Knowing something about the painful circumstances of Peter and his readers makes his words all the more profound. Here are the words of a man seeking to faithfully follow his Savior and Lord:
“Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it… But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.”
To read Peter’s charge to Christians of the “Dispersion” tells us that he has come a long way from the man who sliced off a soldier’s ear. Here Peter is modeling the Jesus-lifestyle, calling for love in the face of hatred, and hope in the face of fear. It is only by walking with Jesus that a life can be so radically changed!
I have underlined in my Bible some key words from Peter on what it will mean for us to follow Jesus in these troublesome time:
- Repay with a blessing
- Do not fear what they fear
- Do not be intimidated
- Sanctify (set apart) Christ as Lord of our lives
- Be ready to give an answer to any who ask why we have such hope
- Answer opponents questions with gentleness and reverence
- Keep our conscience clear in the face of everything that is happening
Here is a lifestyle that is radical and subversive to an empire of hatred and fear. This is the way Jesus walked, and the way to which He calls us today. It is by this alone that people will know that we are Jesus- followers. This is how we shall live!
Grace and peace,