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Last week we found that the book of 1 Peter was penned by Peter, a Galilean fisherman. As such he knew the vital need of balance in a boat. His worldly vocation entered into his spiritual insights in his writings. First he wrote about the balance between individualism and community.
Next Peter explains the balance between our function to God and man, between our worship and service. In Peter 2:5, Peter calls us “a holy priesthood.” As such we offer God praise, gratitude, love. Then in chapter 2:9, the big fisherman writes about how we “declare His deeds.” This is our witness, our ministry to people outside of church—leading a Scout troop, teaching in public schools, evangelizing, serving on a committee.
Have you ever watched football? If so, you noticed the team huddling to hear the signal, then breaking for the line of scrimmage to push the ball forward. Likewise we huddle in church to learn Jesus, to be refreshed. But we dismiss to our homes, our neighborhoods, our labor to do the work of the ministry.
Just look about and you’ll see the imbalance in and around us. There is the bless-me bunch who tramples the church carpets to sit and soak in worship, to try to achieve again that fine feeling. But don’t ask them to do anything! You’ll disturb their reverie.
On the other hand there are those who have forgotten how to receive. Driven more by pride than the Spirit, they minister like they were indispensable. And fatigue is their lot.
Imagine you own a business and it becomes necessary for you to travel for six months. You call together your 200 employees, give them careful written instructions, put them in charge of the plant, and drive off. Periodically you mail them further instructions on what to do in your absence. Then after 6 months you return. You discover no production work got done, no shipments sent. Instead, your employees met daily to read your letters, to exegete every sentence, to delve into the Latin derivations and shades of meaning in each of the words in your epistles. It’s just that they never acted upon your letters.
Sounds preposterous, eh? Don’t stand up in the boat!
I can just see Peter crouching midship, knees bent, careful to keep his tiny skiff from tipping. There’s a big shock of white hair waving the breeze. And with eyes atwinkle, with the blue of Galilee’s sea, he teaches young disciples to live the Christian life with balance between individualism and community, and between worship and service.
Now, third, the big fisherman touts the equilibrium that exists between holiness and worldliness. In 1 Peter 2:11 he reminds us that we are “aliens” and “exiles.” In the Greek this means literally to be without civic rights, to be geographically separate. In Christ this world is not my home. I am a pilgrim passing through on my way to another place.
Yet Peter pulls this extreme into tension with the opposite. For in 1 Peter 2:12, 13-16, he warns us to “Maintain good conduct among the gentiles, to be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” We are to be in the world but not of it. We are to be incarnate like Jesus. Son of God yet strangely Son of man. We are to identify with the world without becoming identical to it. This means we vote, obey speed limits, honor our mayor, work in the secular world, hold political offices.
One doesn’t have to stare about Christendom to find the imbalance here these days. One the one hand there are pietistic holiness Christians who have become so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good. On the other hand there are those Christians who have become so worldly they are lost in it.
Did you hear about the boy who loved yellow? He had a yellow bedroom, yellow sheets, yellow pajamas. And he got sick with, you guessed it, yellow fever! The doctor went up to his bedroom to check on him. Five minutes later he came downstairs and said to the mother, “I went up and looked for him, but I couldn’t find him anywhere!” And likewise, it is so easy for Christians to become so like the world as to become indistinguishable as Christians.
No, my young sailor! Don’t stand up in the boat!
The Reverend Stephen Crotts is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, VA. He is also the director of the Carolina Study Center, Inc., a campus ministry, located in Chapel Hill, NC. Pastor Crotts may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.