This outline continues a series preached in 2002. However, since my original outline for 1 Peter 1:13-16 is missing, the following is new.
What do you say to people who are suffering? More to the point for us, what do believers say to believers who are suffering?
It’s fascinating to me what Peter communicates to the suffering believers who were the original audience for the epistle we call 1 Peter. Though their suffering was apparently of the persecution variety, Peter puts his message in terms that speak to the heart-need of the Christian experiencing any kind of serious difficulty.
What the suffering saint needs to hear is what we find in this epistle—and what we find is a bit surprising. Peter reminds the believers of who they are in this world (displaced but God-beloved strangers) and who they are in Christ (reborn heirs of a salvation so great even angels wish they knew more about it).
But then Peter burdens these struggling recipients of grace with a solemn three-fold responsibility. He commends them to firmly embrace something, to reject something, and to pursue something. To look at it another way, the Scriptures here command us to think differently, desire differently, and do differently.
Note the word “therefore” at the beginning of 1:13. The responsibilities that follow are being revealed because of the privileges already revealed in the preceding verses.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (ESV, 1 Pet. 1:13–16)
13Therefore, (the commands that follow are based on the blessings and identity that precede)
↓preparing your minds for action, and (the proper state of mind requires preparatory steps)
↓being sober-minded [νήφω], (the proper state of mind is controlled and focused)
set your hope fully [τελείως ἐλπίζω] (the proper state of mind is one of firm hope)
↑on [ἐπί] the grace (the hope is firmly affixed to future grace)
↑that will be brought to you (the grace will be brought to us)
↑at the revelation [ἀποκάλυψις] of Jesus Christ. (the time of bringing: the revelation)
↓14As obedient children, (our nonconformity is commanded, a duty/responsibility)
do not be conformed … (we are to avoid conformity)
↑to the passions (what we are to avoid conforming to: passions)
↑of your former ignorance, (the passions are those of our past ignorance)
…15but (a positive alternative to conformity)
↓as he who called you is holy, (we are to be holy because He is holy? In the same manner?)
…you also be holy (the positive alternative to conformity is holiness)
↑in all your conduct, (the holiness is to characterize all we do)
↑16since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (must be holy because our God is holy)
1. Think differently (1:13) - “set your hope fully”
In some translations, verse 13 seems to describe three actions that should characterize our thinking as believers: gird up, be sober, hope. But there is actually one command here (in the phrase “set your hope fully”) and two phrases that help us understand it more fully (preparing/girding up and being sober-minded).
The main command in the verse calls believers—even in the middle of difficult times—to keep hoping. This is not the popular view of hope, the sentimental and extremely vague idea. We understanding this hope better if we note three things:
- For the believer, hope is faith looking forward; it’s confident trust in what God has said about the future. Here, it’s specifically “the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation.”
- We nurture this hope preparing: “preparing your minds for action.”
- We nurture this hope by pursuing sober-mindedness: “being sober-minded.”
Two questions help us dig deeper into what we’re hoping for and how we engage in that hope.
a. For what do we hope?
In other words, what is this grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ? Grace is unearned blessing and “the revelation of Jesus Christ” is a specific event in God’s plan for the human race. We find it described in detail in the book bearing that title, Revelation. In Revelation 19:11ff, Christ returns fullly to the earth and is revealed in His glory.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (ESV2011, Rev 19:11-16)
The event is foretold frequently in Scripture along with events connected with it (Zech. 12:10, 14:4; Isaiah 11:4-5; 2 Thess. 1:10).
Christ Himself described the event more than once (for example, Matt. 16:27, 24:30, 25:31).
We look to other Scripture passages to find out what grace—what undeserved blessing—comes to us at that time. John tells us we will be like Christ, seeing Him as He is (1 John 3:2). We know that very close the time of the revelation of Christ, there will be also be a revealing of all of us and we, too, will be glorious (Rom. 8:18-19; see also Phil. 3:21).
b. In what manner do we hope?
In a word, intentionally. The text calls us to prepare our minds for action and be soberminded. The idea is that we’re to seriously and intentionally point our minds away from our present distress and on to the immeasurably generous undeserved blessings that lie ahead.
Though the illustration may be a bit worn out, but it’s almost impossible to avoid thinking of the way Olympic athletes prepare in the final moments before a competetive event. They all do it in different ways, but each athlete has a way of focusing on the task at hand and preparing mentally for what he or she is about to attempt. I have to ask myself: how often to do I sit down in a quiet place and think “OK, this is hope time”—then consciously ponder the grace waiting for me at the revealing of the Christ?
I think it’s fair to say that the less inclined we are to do that, the more we probably need to!
2. Desire Differently (1:14) - “do not be conformed to the passions”
The second responsibility we have as believers—even as suffering believers—is expressed here negatively: “do not be conformed.” We are to reject conformity to something. Look carefully at what—the passions of our former ignorance.
The difference is internal
The word for “passions” here usually refers to inner longing, not a purely physical thing (e.g., John 8:44 “your father’s desires;” Eph. 4:22 “deceitful desires;” Phil. 1:23 “my desire is to depart and be with Christ;” 1 Thess. 2:17 “great desire to see you face to face.”)
What the passage calls us to, then, is new affections. The old affections they are to replace are identified here also: “of your former ignorance.” These are the desires that characterized us when we were ignorant. Ignorant of what? Peter doesn’t say, but several possibilities would be consistent with what the Scriptures reveal elsewhere.
- Ignorance of the true nature of sin
- Ignorance of the gospel
- Ignorance of Christ Himself
The difference is active
There’s tendency nowadays to portray grace as something that results in our transformation without any exertion on our part. But the command to not be conformed (the same word we find in Rom. 12:2, by the way) assumes something: that there is pressure within us to conform. Something is trying to push is into a mold or pattern, and in this passage the mold or pattern is an old set of affections, an old set of values.
Some time ago my son and I went on an outing to the Twin Cities for a day. Since we live out in the country, so to speak, things like commuter trains and huge shopping malls are pretty novel. So we took the train to the Mall of America, which is full of another thing that is novel to non-urbanites: escalators. Of course, my son had to demonstrate that it’s possible to make progress in the opposite direction an escalator is trying to take you. He demonstrated more than he intended. On an escalator, (1) passivity does not result in stillness. (2) Exertion can overcome the escalator’s “intent.” (3) That exertion can actually be kind of fun.
In our case as believers, we do have a lingering pull in the wrong direction. Passivity does indeed tend to result in decline. On the other hand, grace has provided—and continues to provide—more than adequate strength not only to “nonconform,” but to enjoy not conforming. In Peter’s other epistle we find:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (ESV, 2 Peter 1:3–4)
Paul writes of the more-than-sufficient nature of what we have in Christ:
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:56–58)
So how does this help the Christian in difficult times? If Peter has a suffering audience mainly in mind, why would he teach that they should resist conformity to the old desires of their past ignorance? The answer isn’t really all that hard to see. Just as certain old affections return and pressure us in good times (resulting in temptations, James 1:14-15), some of the same old affections—and some other ones too—look for a foothold in bad times.
What sort of affections tempt us in bad times? The answer is quite a study in itself. Jacob (Gen. 42:36), Saul (e.g., 1 Sam.22:8) and Job (pretty much the entire book) come to mind. While Jacob sometimes succombs to anxiety and bitterness, Joseph’s heart seems to take him in a different direction. Saul’s response to adversity leads him to disobedience, to much more adversity, and then to much more inner turmoil as he increasingly indulges in self-destructive (and others-destructive) attitudes.
The last thing we need to do in times of trouble is to self desctruct by indulging worry, bitterness, ungrateful anger, malice and other passions of our former ignorance!
3. Do differently (1:15-16) - “but … you also be holy”
The call to holiness here is familiar to most of us, but let’s not overlook the treasure here.
These verses reveal the reach this holiness should have in our lives.
- It is for everything we do: “be holy in all your conduct” (1:15 end. KJV “manner of conversation” means “manner of living/conduct.”). A Sunday-morning-only attitude is the furthest thing from Peter’s mind.
- It is not limited to outward conduct: “but” (1:15 beginning). The word tells us that the call to holiness in 1:15 is the alternative to what we saw in 1:14. It’s the alternative to old desires of our past ignorance. So the holiness here clearly involves different desires—those of our present understanding.
These verses reveal the reason holiness ought to fill our lives.
Why should we be holy? In addition to all the blessings and privileges of 1:1-12, and the fact that we are God’s children (v.14), what additional reason(s) do we find in 1:15 and 16? First, we are “called” people and second, the One who has called us is Himself holy. Our calling includes being changed into His likeness.
In hard times we find ourselves slowly lowering our expectations. We tend to give up on the idea of thriving and slowly become focused on surviving. In that mindet, it’s easy to let the glorious call to holiness slip into a place of lower priority. How will it help put food on table, or pay the mortgage, or get me through the day, or help me get along with this difficult person? But this tendency to sideline personal holiness is exactly why we need to be called back to it. It is not less important than all the “practical” things that seem so much more urgent.
We can easily find all kinds of expert advice on what people need to hear in times of suffering. And there is insight scattered in these sources. But the Scriptures reveal that whatever else is on the need list, we need to be called back again and again to both our awesome privileges and our sober responsibilities.
Aaron Blumer, SharperIron’s second publisher, is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in a small town in western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. He is employed in customer service for UnitedHealth Group and teaches high school rhetoric (and sometimes logic and government) at Baldwin Christian School.