I’ve had the privilege of spending the past few days wrestling with what it means to be ‘in Christ’ at the annual National Training Event for the university student movement I’m part of.
One of the highlights has been working with a small group of students to unravel 1 Peter 2.18-25 — reflecting on how to read and make sense of any part of the Bible as we went.
Peter is addressing the question of how Christian slaves should to respond to conflict and especially to harm done to them, e.g., by abusive masters. His answer is to point to:
- The pattern Jesus himself left — particularly in his betrayal, rejection and humiliating death (verses 21-23).
- Christ’s achievement in dying for us, freeing us from sin’s dominion so that it’s now possible to follow in his steps (verse 24).
- And the promise that God has graciously returned us to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.
Perhaps we could say that Peter is inviting any slaves among his readers — and by extension all of us — to renarrate our humanity in the light of the gospel.
Not that we’re to stoically pretend we don’t experience conflict or get hurt. But that we’re to retell our story so it doesn’t end with us trapped in a seemingly inevitable cycle of tit-for-tat.
Instead, our story should end with us entrusting ourselves to the the one who can be trusted to do what’s right. And so to open out onto the broad horizon of forgiveness and reconciliation. Not primarily for our own emotional health (as important as that may be). But, in the wider context of 1 Peter, for the sake of mission.
I can’t think of a richer way to express this insight than John Howard Yoder does in Body Politic (quoted recently by Joel Willits):
To be human is to be in conflict, to offend and to be offended. To be human in the light of the gospel is to face conflict in redemptive dialogue. When we do that, it is God who does it. When we do that, we demonstrate that to process conflict is not merely a palliative strategy for tolerable survival or psychic hygiene, but a mode of truth-finding and community-building. That is true in the gospel; it is also true, mutatis mutandis, in the world.