I recently began preaching through the first epistle of Peter. It’s already been such an encouraging book—pertinent to the context in which we find ourselves today—as the apostle writes to instruct believers on how to maintain hope and holiness in an increasingly hostile culture. Peter wrote his two letters to Christians in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor who were facing rising hostility because of their faith in Christ—because their faith makes them different. They’ve been transferred to a new society, they no longer belong to the world, and the world recognizes that. They are experiencing an uncomfortable shift in social status. They face suspicion, distrust, social displacement. They’re being shamed by their neighbors and fellow countrymen; and Peter writes to encourage them that while they face dishonor and disgrace in the view of the world, their trust in Christ will result in their future vindication. Their faith and hope in Christ will not disappoint. Ultimately, “the honor is for you who believe” (1 Peter 2:7).
A very good and important book on this subject is called “Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity,” by David deSilva. Below, I want to share a few quotes in which deSilva explains the way the New Testament authors encourage Christians facing the dishonor of the surrounding culture by reorienting the believers to their new society, their new family, and their new primary court of reputation. I hope you find these snippets as encouraging as I did. And then I hope you go buy the book—it’s really quite phenomenal.
“Like the leaders of other minority cultures in the first century, New Testament authors were also careful continually to point the members of the Christian group away from the opinion that non-Christians might form of them toward the opinion of those who would reflect the values of the group and reinforce the individual’s commitment to establish his or her honor and self-respect in terms of those group values. It is the latter group that must constitute the ‘court of reputation,’ the sole body of significant others whose approval or disapproval should be important to the individual. Most prominent within this court of reputation is God, whose central place is assured because of God’s power to enforce his estimation of who deserves honor and who merits censure.”
“God’s power to place the final stamp of approval or censure is brought into sharp focus by the conviction that God has appointed a day (see Acts 17:31)—the Day of Judgment—when he will hold the whole world accountable to his standards. On that day, God will award grants of honor to those who have lived to please him and heap disgrace upon those who have lived contrary to his values.”
“These authors repeatedly underscore the contrasting, indeed often contradictory, courses of action commended by God and one’s society… Awareness of this difference continues to insulate believers against society’s attempts to shame them, since the Christians know they pursue a more lasting and significant grant of honor. In John’s Gospel, concern for the estimation of other people cripples discipleship.”
“It is also crucial that the Christian not continue to seek the approval of his or her non-Christian neighbors on the basis of religious activity, since this would draw him or her back into the piety of the pre-Christian existence for the sake of pleasing the neighbor and recovering a good reputation.”
“The unbelievers form again an unreliable court of reputation, commending what is actually wicked and shameful (see Phil 3:18-19). Their very sense of honor and value is upside down, as their lives testify. Therefore, the Christian experiencing their pressure to ‘join them in the same excesses of dissipation’ (1 Pet 4:4.) should not be moved away from his or her honorable course of action.”
“The believers are also assured that the hostility of these unbelievers—the hostility with which they hope to pressure the Christian back into conformity with the dominant culture’s way of life—is itself displeasing to God and incurs God’s wrath (1 Thess 2:14-16). Knowing this will also help the believers endure rather than surrender to those measures that not only assail the Christian but bring down God’s anger on the outsiders.”
“[The New Testament authors seek to prevent] the experience of insult, scorn and shame from having its intended affect on the Christians by pointing out the ignorance and shamelessness of the outsiders (that is to say, by explaining that the people censuring the believers are themselves incapable of rendering reliable judgments about the noble and the shameful).”
“The predictability or normalcy of the experiences, the commendation of perseverance as a means of demonstrating loyalty and courage… [are] intended by New Testament authors to inform and protect the group from being pulled back into the values of the majority culture.”