Meditations in 1 Peter : 11 : Under Scrutiny
1 Pet 1:17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
I have a picture of a family of mother, father and three children, out for the day, walking and playing in the woods and planning a picnic at the end of it. The children are told to remain in sight of their parents and in this instruction they feel quite secure. They know that if anyone came to threaten them, their father would be there for them. It is, first and foremost, a sense of security of which they are aware. But actually there is also another sense that they have and it is that of not straying over boundaries of behaviour that the family has set, otherwise they will be answerable to the father. Again though, it is something that creates security for they know that as much as they will be held accountable for misdeeds, so will their brother or sister. They feel secure in this.
Nicky Gumbel, originator of the Alpha Courses, tells the story of an occasion when he took his boys to weekend football and the referee had not turned up and so the boys asked Nicky to referee. The only trouble was that he didn’t know all the rules and thus didn’t have the authority. Within a short while the game degenerated into constant arguments and upset. After a while the proper referee arrived, apologetic for being late, but then took over. Suddenly the game took on order and, the most important thing, the boys started enjoying the game now there was order and authority there.
Peter has just reminded us in the previous verses that God is holy and, as His children, we are to be holy. The present verse reminds us that He will hold us accountable in the same way as the father in my illustration above does with his children, and the referee does in Nicky Gumble’s story. But in calling us to do this, he says two helpful things.
The first is the reminder that God has revealed Himself to us as our Father. For many of us who have had bad family experiences with human fathers, the concept of God as Father may not fill us with joy – but it should. We should not see Him in the same mould as our imperfect human fathers, but He is The example of Fatherhood above all other examples. Yes, He is the One who created the world and brought us into being but now He is also the One who is constantly working to draw us back into close relationship with Him so that we may receive of all of His goodness and love. He is there to help us, support us, provide for us and protect us and in that He is the One who brings security to our lives. Everything about Him is love and goodness.
He doesn’t have favourites – we are all His favourites. Think about the privileges that a favourite child receives in an imperfect family situation, and God gives that to ALL of us who are His children. A cynic has said that if we are all special then that means that none of us are special. That might be true of a limited human father but in God’s case it is like when He draws near to us, we know that we are the most important person in the world – but so do all the other children of the Father! He can do that because He is God. A child who feels they are special has the sense of the father pouring out his love over and above the normal. Well God does that with every one of His children. It is only our own unbelief that hinders us receiving and enjoying that.
The second helpful thing is the reminder that we are “strangers” here. Although we tend to think that this life is the all important thing, and we are fearful of the thought of giving it up, we do have a destiny in heaven. Heaven is our ultimate home. But there is something even more significant in this: we are citizens of heaven NOW. The life we have in us, the Holy Spirit, is rooted in heaven. He is the One who provides a link with heaven. So often in the Gospels, the reference is to “the kingdom of heaven.” The character, the atmosphere if you like, of heaven is within us, linking us to heaven and that is where the origin of our present ‘life’ comes from. The perfection and wonder of heaven is here within us in a measure and that is what makes us citizens of a different realm. Paul wrote, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.” (Col 1:13) We are to see ourselves as strangers to this world because in reality we now live in another realm, the kingdom of God.
The final reference to living in “reverent fear” is no more onerous than the children knowing they would be answerable to their father, or the boys answerable to the referee. In both cases they feel secure in the presence of the adult. The only time they feel fearful is when they transgress the accepted rules of the family or of the game. Thus it is with us and our loving heavenly Father. Be secure in His love.