Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries



The Royal Priesthood in Action  audio (6MB)
1 Peter 2:4-12

Keep your Bibles open at 1 Peter, as we'll be looking at the passage just read, but also some sections before and after.
Last week Chris helped us see that our identity as Christians is to be 1 body, with 3 core attributes: faith, hope and love, and 9 fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.... 

This opens up endless possibilities when applied to our daily lives. The apostle Peter in ch 2v5, creatively describes us as 'living' stones or bricks, but don't think of typical bricks, we're more like clay or play dough, that's alive! Because we're being moulded daily by our decisions into one spiritual house. Our lives are our spiritual offerings, which God accepts, because of Jesus. So our lives have an inward aspect, what we do 'at home' with God: worshipping God within the 'walls' of the 'house'. But they also have an outward aspect, the 'street appeal', in that a building faces the world.

We're going to look at just one way we hone our inward, 'at home' virtue of worship. Then we'll look at four ways we may hone our outward virtues...our 'street appeal': by humility, chastity, patience, and giving an account of our faith.

So first the inward – what we do 'at home' with God. If we're people who have gladly come to Jesus as the cornerstone (v6),  we are daily being built, moulded into God's spiritual house. Or as Peter puts it in v9, we're becoming: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people! Race, priesthood, nation, people – these are all collective nouns – stressing the group nature of our lives. They hark back to the promises God made to Abraham of a great nation, and later to the prophets, that 'I will be their God and they shall be my people'. Verse 9 goes on to say we're to 'declare his mighty works' - telling and reminding ourselves of all the wonderful things he has done for us...this is part of worship.

We were at a wedding last weekend, and the bridegroom's speech was telling the bride and us, how amazed, and grateful he was for her love of him, and how much he loved her. That's the kind of thing worship as a virtue is. Telling God in the presence of the other stones in the building about how much we love him and how grateful we are for his love, displayed in his might works. Now how do we do this here in church?

Well, one way you might not immediately think of is - Communion or the Lord's Supper.

Let me explain...last Sunday Kirsten was telling me about her parents down-sizing the big, family home where she grew up. Kirsten and her siblings helped to sort through boxes they hadn't seen for years, but as they did, memories flooded back of childhood experiences and events. They relived these events, which she said she'd have completely forgotten otherwise. Physically seeing and touching things from the past, brought back joys, and they laughed and were grateful, so much so that some memories even feature in her dreams now!

This is how its meant to be with the Lord's Supper. As we stand there together at the front, and see and touch and taste and swallow, the physical bread and wine, its as if we're being drawn back to the day Jesus died, in collective memory. We're standing at the cross, seeing him suffer as he takes our punishment, in inexplicable, majestic love. Our eating and drinking binds us to Him. It's as if we died with him that day, to our old nature and were sprinkled and made holy and blameless.

But as we eat and drink, tasting the dry bread and the sweet wine, it's as if the scene shifts from faith in Jesus' loving death, to the hope of his resurrection. Because the Lord's Supper is a meal, and food means life, and Jesus rose again, so we too might live in 'newness of life', putting on our new natures. And then as we reflect further, we may even imagine sitting at the heavenly banquet with Jesus, and each other – at the great Marriage Supper when we will be together forever. This is the richness of what we do at Communion – looking right back in group memory, then at the present, then looking forward, and thus reminding ourselves of who we are - God's chosen people! Doing this each week, we hone the virtue of worshipping together – declaring his mighty acts...and it sustains us to remember and give thanks and even let it enter our dreams!  

And of course the reading of God's Word, saying the creeds, songs, prayers and fellowship afterwards, all contribute to the virtue of worship. These are rich ways we corporately express our virtue as God's dwelling place.

But now lets turn to the way virtue faces outwards and relates to the world - our 'street appeal'. As people who are God's 'living home', we are his priesthood, his agents. Like an angled mirror reflecting God to his world through our distinctive lives.

Peter has much to say about outward virtue. He says in 2v9 that we have been 'called out of darkness, into his marvellous light'. Look at the 1st verse of ch 2. This is a slice of the social darkness we've been called out of, he says – 'rid yourselves of all malice (desire to hurt or upset someone), guile (being crafty and manipulative), insincerity (not being genuine, lying), envy (always wanting someone else's stuff) and slander (bad-mouthing someone)'. In contrast we've been 'brought into his marvellous light'. That word 'marvellous' could be translated 'virtuous' – 'into his virtuous light'..its a moral term.

Peter also says in v11-12 'abstain from the desires of the flesh...conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles...so that they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes as judge'. He looks at several scenarios: obeying governments and authorities in 2V13-17; being a godly slave v18-25; being a christian married to a non-christian 3v1-7; not retaliating even when you're in the right 3v9-22. In each scenario the christian is to honour the other person or authority more highly than themselves, that is, to exercise - humility. We'll come back to humility in a minute.

But I wonder if you've ever asked the thorny question, 'What about the virtuous person who doesn't have a christian faith?' There are lots of non-believers who outshine Christians by simply being more dedicated to practising virtues we all agree on in society, perhaps because they were parented better. And the discipline of psychology is helping people over-come some dysfunctional behaviours.
The New Testament writers themselves faced the issue of virtue in people of other religions too. They wrote in the context where 300 years before Jesus' birth, Aristotle had already outlined happiness as the goal for humans, and the virtues you needed to practice in the pursuit of happiness. And there is over-lap with many biblical virtues: courage, temperance, generosity, proper ambition, patience, truthfulness, wittiness, friendliness, modesty, righteous indignation. So there's no question that it's possible for great thinkers to articulate noble ideals, and in some measure to live up to them. So what do we make of the virtuous non-believer?

Well, the NT doesn't have 'happiness' as the goal, but faith, hope and love, the community of being God's chosen people, and the increasing flourishing of the fruit of the Spirit. These higher goals can only be achieved by grace. If personal 'happiness' is your goal, you see, there's nothing wrong with adultery or pornography or prostitution or consensual paedophilia, or bisexual relationships. And some of these were considered normal in Aristotle's world.

But you might say, we've come a long way since then, so can't we just add on the christian virtues?

But remember Paul's desperate cry, 'The good I want to do, I don't do, and the evil I don't want to do, is what I do', Romans 7v19. In the end, even the best and most noble human beings, find they're better at articulating, than keeping noble ideals. The answer Jesus came to bring was to deal with our broken, twisted human natures at their core. My arm was broken and twisted. I had to go under a general anaesthetic while the surgeon realigned the broken bones. I couldn't right myself. The Christian answer is that God, in Christ, like the surgeon, was and is putting the world right at its core, where the relationship with himself was broken long ago, and marred every other human good. Even the great ethicists of our modern era, say John Stewart Mill, do not offer a cure of the christian magnitude, which cannot be earned. 

But there's another problem with purely human efforts at the virtuous life, from Aristotle to J. S. Mill. It's that some people succeed more than others on the moral front...creating cause for – pride.

And this is where the NT writers, convinced of un-earnable grace, stand in stark contrast, because Jesus had paved the way for a new virtue – one that Aristotle saw as a weakness, that is, humility. Remember when Jesus wrapped a towel around his waste and washed his disciples feet, and Peter hated it. But Jesus firmly said this was the way his leadership team would lead, 'I have set you this example', Jesus told them in John 13.

Humility is how we are to reflect God to the world as our new natures develop day by day, as part of our 'street appeal'.
2000 years since the NT, humility is largely an accepted virtue in the West – we teach kids not to 'show off', but we aren't totally convinced, because we like to treat our sporting heroes, and celebrities like gods and goddesses, allowing them to dazzle us. We put them on pedestals and idolise them...preachers?

Another way we can live distinctive lives is mentioned in v 11 – 'abstain from the desires of the flesh'. Chastity was not on Aristotle's virtue list, and increasingly it is one the West is disposing of. The only problem with unhindered sexual expression, is the unwanted pregnancy, and the jilted partner. But from the early christians onwards, it's been held that wrongly used, sexuality dehumanises, distorts and darkens lives. As image-bearers of God, a man and a woman leave and cleave for mutual love and care and protection, and to give rise to a new generation, extending God's hospitality in the world...not in the pursuit of personal happiness. But in the end marriage itself is a transient calling, and singleness is a calling no less, for we all look to the day when we will be united to Jesus, as the corporate family-nation-race the people of God..we must remember the group nature of our identity.

Patience isn't specifically mentioned in 1Peter, but its worth mentioning, as it's both a fruit of the Spirit, and one of Aristotle's virtues. Our culture thinks patience is a virtue too, but preferably in others, so we can get what we want quicker. We want everything instantly, so again, patience is seen as a limited virtue! But as Christians, we stand out here, since we know all virtues need patience because they develop slowly in us. In fact the very first thing we hear about the core Christian attribute love, is that it's 'patient'. And knowing God's patience, that he's slow to anger, we shouldn't be in a hurry to force people to become his followers before they're ready. We should be in for long haul with family, friends and work colleagues.

This area of sharing the faith, or being ready to give an account of the 'hope that is in us', as ch 3v15 puts it, is what we would long for all our 'street appeal' to result in. I wonder how often we actually practice this outward virtue? Are we ever asked why we're Christians? If the opportunity came up, what would we say? Its an outward virtue to develop meaningful ways of explaining our faith. I've found reading books like 'Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis, or 'Letters from a Sceptic', by Greg Boyd, or doing Christianity Explained or Alpha helpful. But knowing your own story of faith is something God can use with family, or friends. Have you tried writing your story down? I bet it will encourage you!

As God's living people, we are to meet to worship through the Lord's Supper 'at home', and to shine outwardly in society, whether in obeying authorities, through our humility, chastity, patience and in giving an account of our faith.

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Phone: 0422187127