The issues and concerns of persons today are found in the pages of Scripture. No matter how distant we are from the experiences of New Testament Christians, those writings are still relevant to the issues which face the church, the individual follower of Jesus Christ, and the world.
The General Epistles are a prime example of this truth. These letters, especially I and II Peter, are a goldmine of themes which are as relevant to the Christian and the church as the headlines on today’s paper.
As we remember, I Peter addresses a church which is being persecuted. Its purpose is to assure persons of the support of their fellow Christians, and to encourage them to persevere. Two key words in I Peter are “steadfastness” and “hope.” The essential purpose of I Peter is summed up in 5:12b: “… I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring this is the true grace of God; stand fast in it.” (RSV)
II Peter deals with different circumstances. The primary issue is not persecution but controversy. The purpose of II Peter is to defend the true faith against false teachings. There are two problems at the center of this letter: one is the false teaching that the physical and the spiritual are separate and distinct realities; the second is the denial of the return of Christ, since there has been a delay in his coming.
Christians today must face false teachings from many quarters. My own denomination, like so many others, has been racked with a controversy over homosexuality. We have been challenged repeatedly to modify the truth of Holy Scriptures and admit that homosexual behavior is no sin at all. Adultery and many similar sins are temptations placed before every person in our culture, even those in the church.
Persecution is not as easily identified, but is also present in our world. Christians who stand for morality and right are often cruelly dismissed. Persons are ostrasized for not participating in certain practices. My wife and I were recently ridiculed by people in our community because we do not provide a cocktail hour for two high school students in our home.
Let me suggest some sermon themes from I and II Peter that I believe address a world and a church where the very foundations of our faith are being attacked and ridiculed.
“Defending Your Faith”
Text: I Peter 3:15
The gross and discourteous manner of some witnesses to their faith had discouraged many Christians from actively preparing to defend their faith. Other Christians simply do not have the knowledge of what they ought to do to defend the faith.
Three suggestions could be the emphasis of this sermon. One is to defend the faith through an unwavering belief system. A second is to live the faith daily, being committed to Christian principles, beliefs and morality. A third is to stand firmly even in the midst of opposition.
A fellow pastor wrote to me about an experience in which he had to take a firm stand for moral principles and said, “You never really know who your friends are until you have to take an unpopular stand!”
“Free or Loose”
Text: I Peter 2:16
T.S. Eliot once wrote, “We are not emancipated, we are just unbuttoned.” It is that image which gives the theme of this sermon. The two truths of this verse give the emphasis to this sermon, (1) True freedom comes from committment. (2) Freedom comes from living by a standard.
The psychologist, Erik Erikson has identified eight tasks that are important throughout life. He talks of them by contrasts, or two ideas in tension; one is “freedom vs. autonomy.” An important reality for youth and young adults, it raises the questions: “Can I be free?” “Can I make my own decisions?” “Will I always be controlled by someone or something else?”
“It’s A Many-Splendored Thing”
Text: I Peter 1:6, and I Peter 4:10 (KJV)
Several years ago there was a motion picture titled, “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.” This image of a multi-faceted jewel is found in two verses in I Peter. One is I Peter 1:6, where Peter described the “manifold” temptations which surround the Christian. The other is I Peter 4:10 in which he reminds the church of the “manifold” grace of God. The Greek word on which both of these expressions are based comes from a root word that means “many colored.”
We have here the basis for a dual emphasis. The first is that we are surrounded by temptations which are varied, many, and often attractive, just as multi-colored, just as diverse. For every temptation that besets us, there is a corresponding grace which can sustain us and guide us through to victory.
“It’s Gonna Be A Great Day!”
Text: II Peter 3:8-15
If the Christians of the first century were perplexed about delay in the return of the Lord, today’s Christians have to a great extent simply forgotten that we might even expect His coming again. But, one cannot ignore the Biblical teachings about the coming again of our Lord. This text leads to four significant thoughts about that future event:
(1) God’s time is not our time. The text quotes from the Psalms about this significant idea. In the New Testament, there is a major difference in the understanding of time as “chronos” and time as “crisis.”
(2) There will be a Day of the Lord; an end of the created order. It is logical to think that what begins must also end. It is promised through the Scripture.
(3) There will be a New World as a result of His coming. When Jesus came in the first century, He redeemed and reformed the hearts of persons. When His Spirit comes to us today, we are changed and remolded. When He comes again, there will be a further reshaping of the world; a new creation in keeping with God’s image of life.
(4) We ought to live as if the future is already here. The purpose of those pictures of the Last Judgment in the New Testament do not have as their purpose to frighten persons or to send them into the depths of despair. Those passages are designed to give all of us hope, a hope that burns brightly in the most dismal of our circumstances. It is a hope which will give us power and vigor as we live for Christ’s sake.
“Who Is Your Teacher?”
Text: II Peter 1:1-22
This text abounds with descriptions of those false teachers who were leading the early Christians away from the power of God and the holiness of Christ-like living. We can compare those ancient false teachers with false teachers today. The sects which have attracted so many today and led some to death–as was the case with the followers of Jim Jones–all lead to appropriate illustrations of these modern false teachers.
Science promises more than it can deliver in our time and is often another of those “false teachers.” There are the “false teachers” of pleasure and modern hedonism. There are those who lull persons today with a sense of inability to change the world.
In these few illustrations, we can see that through I and II Peter, we can find those texts which bring forth those issues and themes which are relevant to the lives of Christians today. Every preacher can turn to these two short books realizing that they can find in them some of life’s most pressing and vital topics.

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