What sort of lives should we live?
I wonder what you will end up doing?
Astronaut, lawyer, vicar, retail manager, musician, footballer, engineer, writer, inventor, nurse.
It is fascinating: and I look forward to finding out.
But Peter asks a slightly different question: not what will you do, but what sort of person will you be? What will be your character?
It is more important. Because we are bigger than what we do. We are how we live.
So what sort of people should be like? Holy, Godly, People with a hope, Active, Humble, Grow and mature, people who bring glory to God.
I’m just going to focus on three.
1. Holy people
Peter writes: ‘What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness … without spot or blemish’.
That sounds so boring. We think of holy people as pious and aloof, sitting cross legged on some mountain somewhere. It is OK if you are into that sort of thing. Or we think of them as people who are self-righteous, holier than thou.
That is very different to the vision of holiness that we are given in this letter:
On the negative side it is about not giving in to every desire or lust that we have, and not rejecting authority simply because it is authority (2 Peter 2.10). It is about not rubbishing things we don’t understand (2 Peter 2.12). It about not (I like this one) speaking ‘bombastic nonsense’ (2.18). It is about not living lives that are controlled by money or sex (2 Peter 2.14).
That is negative. But Peter describes what it is like. It is about goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, perseverance (stickability and faithfulness especially when things get tough), and it is about mutual affection – heart friendship, love (2 Peter 1.5-7).
It is about being the best friend that you can ever be to another person. It is about delighting in who God has made them to be and in what they can become. It is respecting them as a unique human being, with a potential eternal destiny. It is about being loyal, open, honest about our own failings, transparent, utterly reliable, committed to the absolute best for them, not just here and now, not just for the next 70 or 80 years, but for eternity. And that might mean encouraging them or challenging them.
Holiness as Peter describes it, is not boring
2. People of Hope
We are people who are looking to the future, to the day when Jesus returns, when death and destruction and pain and suffering and evil are wiped out.
‘But in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness [right-ness] is at home’ (2 Peter 3.13).
We need hope to live.
If you are a football fan, an Ipswich Town fan, you need hope. The season would be impossible if there was no hope of them winning any game, let alone of promotion. It doesn’t need to be a big hope (that would be foolish!). But it can be a little hope. Maybe we won’t get relegated; maybe we will finish mid league, maybe we will get to the play offs, or the quarter finals of FA cup.
If there is no hope, the season is pointless (literally)! But if there is a hope, however small, there is a reason for the season, and there is a reason for keeping on going.
We need a hope to live.
William Barclay, in his commentary on 2 Peter, tells of three inscriptions on pagan tombstones which show us what happen when there is no hope.
The first says: ‘I was nothing; I am nothing; so thou who art still alive, eat, drink and be merry’. It is what some call hedonism. We live for this world and we live for ourselves. It makes sense.
The second says: ‘Once I had no existence; now I have none. I am not aware of it. It does not concern me’. Without hope we do nothing.
The third says: ‘Charidas, what is below? ‘Deep darkness.’ But what of the paths upward? ‘All a lie’. ‘Then we are lost’. Without hope, we despair.
The Christian hope, that one day Christ will return, that it will be the end of space and time as we know it, that one day death and lies and shame and suffering will be gone, and that we will live lives of peace and joy and fulfilment and abundance and love and laughter; and that we will see God and everything will be right, is a hope which will transform our lives. We will want to prepare ourselves for that life then. And the more that hope takes a grip on us, the less we will live for the things of this world and the more we will live for the things of that world.
But the hope that Jesus will return is actually harder to believe even than the idea that Ipswich will get promotion next season.
Peter is aware of that. There are people who are saying, ‘There is no future hope. Give it up. Live for this world, live for yourself – because this world is all that there is’.
But that is why he has been writing this letter. He is saying to people, ‘This is the promise of God. This hope is real. It may be bigger than our minds can grasp – but it is real’.
And earlier in this letter he has reminded us of something that happened when Jesus was alive.
In 2 Peter 1.16-18 he tells of how he saw the glory of Jesus. Peter, James and John went up a mountain with Jesus, and he was transfigured. They saw him. He was bigger than time: he was speaking with Moses and Elijah, both of whom had lived centuries before. He was bigger than creation: he shone with the light that created physical light. And they heard the voice from heaven declaring that Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
I’ve often wondered why Peter chose that particular incident to tell us about. In the New Testament, outside the gospels, it is the only specific incident in Jesus’ life, apart from his death, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances, that we are told about.
I can imagine Peter, about to be taken to his place of execution, probably in chains, giving his instructions to the person who wrote 2 Peter, ‘Tell them about the transfiguration because it is an example of the ‘power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1.16). And because he wants to reassure the Christians to whom he is writing about the hope that we have of the coming of Jesus – he wants to remind us, and possibly himself as he faces death: it really happened and it blew our minds.
And one day he will come again and it will blow our minds.
But that is our hope. Life is not just a drag from one high to the next high to the next high to death. Life has a purpose, it has a goal. We have a reason to live. It is why it is worth slogging it out here, persevering even when it feels that it is all about this world, or when people mock us because we believe in Jesus.
We have a hope.
3. Humble people
What sort of people should we be? We should be people who live under the authority of the word of God – even when it tells us stuff that we don’t want to hear.
But we need to be careful. I love vv15-16. Peter tells us that Paul’s letters are to be considered ‘scripture’ (i.e they have authority). That is interesting, because in one of those letters Paul tells us how he confronted Peter, when Peter was wrong.
But Peter also says that what Paul writes is hard to understand, and we need to be careful how we interpret those passages, and other parts of the bible. Because, to be honest, we can make the bible say stuff that God would never want to say. That is why we need the church – the people of God from all eras and all cultures – to help us understand the bible. It is why we need the creed, as a sort of control to our understanding. It is why we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
We really do need to have a degree of humility when we come to understanding the bible. I have every confidence that this is the word of God. But I do seriously need to question my interpretation of it, especially when others have interpreted or do interpret a passage in a different way to how I interpret it.
Richard Hooker, who is one of my theological heroes, (he lived in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth) challenged those who were so insistent that they had the right interpretation: ‘Think ye are men, deem it not impossible for you to err; sift impartially your own hearts, whether it be force of reason or vehemecy of affection, which hath bred and still doth feed these opinions in you. If truth do anywhere manifest itself, seek not to smother it with glossing delusions, acknowledge the greatness therof, and think it your best victory when the same doth prevail over you.’ (Preface IX , p143)
In other words. Place yourself under the authority of the word of God. But be humble, and do not twist the Word of God to make it mean what you personally want it to mean.
I’m going to finish here. There is so much more that could be taken from these verses. Read them when you go home. But remember what is really important is not what you do, but how you live. And Peter urges us: be humble, be hopeful, be holy.