3rd Sunday After Easter 1 St. Peter ii. 11
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord my strength and my redeemer
The Good Shepherd
Text: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which was against the soul; Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:”
The first thing we need to understand about the letters of St. Peter is who he was writing to and what was going on at that period of time. 1st Peter belongs to a group of New Testament letters which are known as the Catholic or General Epistles because they were accepted as Scripture by the whole Church. At the time when these letters were written, there was an outbreak of letter-writing in the Church. We still posses many of the letters written by Clement of Rome to Corinth, the letter of Barnabas, the letters of Ignatius and the letters of Polycarp. All of these are precious but they were never regarded as having authority throughout the Church like the letters of Peter. We believe, although there are some who doubt, that 1 Peter was written from Rome by Peter himself, about the year AD 67 in the days immediately following the first persecution of the Christians by Nero. The Christians being persecuted were not just Jews but also Gentiles who had converted to Christianity and this is to whom Peter is writing.
The basic commandment in the Epistle is that Christians should abstain from fleshly desires. It is important that we understand what Peter means because modern usage or interpretations have applied a much narrower meaning, usually sexual sin, than what Peter intended. St Paul in Galatians 5 verses 19 to 21 lists what the phrase ‘sins of the flesh’ is understood to mean in the New Testament. Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these are what Peter is referring to as fleshly desires. They are not just sexual sins but include desires and characteristics of a fallen human nature like jealousy, anger, quarrels and envy. Why are we commanded to abstain from these human failures; because they are sins against the soul and sins against the soul are sins against God.
Peter goes on to say that we should “Submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake” because Christians must take their full share of responsibility for living upon earth. But these words also speak to two great truths about true Christian believers. Christians in a sense are strangers in the world because they cannot accept the world’s laws and standards. Others may accept them; but Christians are citizen of the kingdom of god, and it is by the laws of that kingdom that they must direct their lives. Since Christians are not permanent residents upon earth they must do nothing that would keep them from reaching their ultimate goal, they must never soil themselves to become unfit to enter the presence of God in heaven.
Peter goes on to say “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men”. The early Church was under fire, slanderous charges were continually being made against them and the only effective way to refute these charges was to live lives so lovely that the charges would be seen to be obviously untrue. Here is a timeless truth, whether we like it or not, all Christians are an advertisement for Christianity; by their lives, they either commend it to others or give others a reason to think less of Christianity as a whole. All Christians should be dismayed by the news this week that Bishop Robert Finn leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri waited six months before notifying police about the behavior of Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison on child pornography charges. These Christian men by their actions gave the world a reason to think less of all Christians.
They failed to follow Peter’s commandment to submit themselves to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake. And by doing so they soiled themselves to the point where they became unfit to enter the presence of God in heaven.
Every time we let the desires and characteristics of a fallen human nature like fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing enter into our lives we are no better than Bishop Robert Finn and Rev. Shawn Ratigan. It is just as wrong to be jealous of or angry at someone else as it is to be involved in child pornography because any of these sins show that we have forsaken God and let Satan be the guide by which we live our lives here on earth. And by doing so we risk soiling ourselves to the point where we become unfit to enter the presence of God in heaven.
How do we protect ourselves from this fallen nature? We have to have a strong moral compass in our head to guide us as to what is right and what is wrong. We get that moral compass from the laws and commandments God has given to us in Holy Scripture. Jesus by his life and work showed us what an unfallen nature looks like and it is our bounden duty to try to live up to that standard. It is hard because we are imperfect humans with a fallen nature, but that should not deter us from trying every day to live our lives in accordance with His commandments. To do this C.E.B. Cranfield says there must be “a voluntary subordination of oneself to others, putting the interest and welfare of others above one’s own, preferring to give rather that to get, to serve rather than to be served”. In today’s “me” society and culture people are guided by “what’s in it for me” or “I want” or “I should be able to do it because it feels good to me”. This is a significant departure from “it is better to give than to receive”.
God understands that we are not perfect. His Son Jesus Christ our Lord died on the cross for our sins. In the face of today’s evil ways Christians must insist on obeying God. By so doing they will at least be a living witness to the truth, and at best they may lead others to take up the Christian way in their lives.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost; be ascribed all might, majesty, power and domination as is most justly due this day both now and forever; world without end.