The Work of the Word of God in Peter’s Letters
In his two letters in the New Testament, Peter writes from the perspective of the kingdom, which has very much to do with our conduct (Rom. 14:17) and service for the Lord in His absence (Matt. 25:14–30). In his exhortations to the recipients of his letters, he refers several times to God’s Word, explaining how it brought about our salvation, setting out the desire we are to have for it and reminding us of its importance in instructing us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the living and abiding word of God’ (1 Pet. 1:23).
Salvation is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). The means of obtaining salvation is also His gift. Consistent with Paul’s statement that ‘faith … is by a report, but the report by God's word’ (Rom. 10:17), Peter records that each of us was born again by God’s Word.
While we may not have recognised the working of the Scriptures in us when we were saved, we should now be able to appreciate how this was the case. Our natural minds had no conception of our state before God or the depth of our need. As sinners, there was also no desire on our part to consider such things. In His grace, God spoke to us, and did so through His Word, which is ‘living and powerful’, and able to penetrate the depths of a person’s soul (Heb. 4:12 NKJV), even that of the worst sinner as Paul’s response to the Lord’s words to him shows. It was only the words of Scripture which convicted us in our ignorance of and hostility towards God and brought about new birth — that is, gave us a new heart and a new spirit (see John 3:5, where water speaks of the Word of God, and Ezekiel 36:25–27, where the sprinkling of water on Israel in a future day will lead to the Lord giving them a new heart and spirit).
The Bible maintains its character. It continues to be ‘living’, which underscores its relevance and reminds us that it has not lost any of its power. We can also have confidence in taking heed to the Bible because it is ‘abiding’ (see also 1:25). Not one part of it will ever become irrelevant or inapplicable or have no further use: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away’ (Matt. 24:35).
‘As newborn babes desire earnestly the pure mental milk of the word, that by it ye may grow up to salvation’ (1 Pet. 2:2).
Peter uses the picture of a newborn child and his or her frequent insatiable cravings for milk to challenge us as to whether we have a similar desire to read and meditate upon God’s Word.
Again, there is every reason to turn to the Bible. It is ‘pure’, and we can have absolute confidence in it. It is the means by which we both live and grow as Christians (Luke 4:4; 1 Pet. 2:2). In light of the ‘great salvation’ (Heb. 2:3) which is ours to enjoy even now, there would be something amiss if we did not want to feed on that which will bring us to understand, appreciate and enjoy our present salvation, and to do so to the full — that is, to ‘grow up to salvation’.
‘I will be careful to put you always in mind of these things …’ (2 Pet. 1:12). ‘I account it right … to stir you up by putting you in remembrance …’ (1:13). ‘I stir up, in the way of putting you in remembrance’ (3:1).
Peter had a real concern for the recipients of his letter as evidenced in his care and effort in writing to them with a view to stirring them up. They must have been touched that the apostle had written to them (even when he was about to be martyred as chapter 1:14 and John 21:18, 19 make clear), and not as a formality or in an impersonal manner but with real exercise, as a shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1–2), for their blessing. Speaking reverently, we could take this further and say that God has caused the Bible to be written out of an even greater concern for our edification and spiritual well-being and a desire that we might profit by the practical instruction found in it.
Peter knew that the believers to whom he was writing needed to be stirred up (just as we do), and that there might be more than one occasion for such exhortation (again, as may sometimes be the case for us). Hence, he was concerned to ‘use diligence that after my departure ye should have also, at any time, in your power to call to mind these things’ (1:15). In other words, Peter wrote to them so that they would be able to return to his letter and receive its help again in the future. The same principle applies to the whole of the Word of God. It has been given to us so that we might be able to turn to it to receive the instruction or reproof of which we may often be in need. In Western lands, where there is no impediment to owning a Bible, and with modern technology, where we can keep multiple translations of the Bible on our phones, Peter’s statement is literally true: we have, at any time, the ability to call to mind the instruction in God’s Word. Do we take advantage of this?
Finally, Peter did not commend any believers to men or the writings of men. Paul’s words to the elders from the assembly in Ephesus could be applied to 2 Peter. Peter commends the recipients of his letter to the word of God’s grace, which was able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all the sanctified (Acts 20:32).
‘The prophetic word … to which ye do well taking heed (as to a lamp shining in an obscure place)’ (2 Pet. 1:19).
We are instructed elsewhere that the whole of the Bible is a lamp to our feet (Ps. 119:105). We do well to put this into practice — that is, to honestly turn to God’s Word and seek His instruction and guidance as found therein, and to do so on a daily basis and in every situation.
However, Peter places a special emphasis on the practical help found in the prophetic parts of Scripture. Our initial reaction to prophecy might be to consider it to be simply that (a foretelling). While we should also be interested in prophecy because of what it brings out concerning the sufferings of Christ and His subsequent glories (1 Pet. 1:11), the testimony of Jesus, which underpins prophecy (Rev. 19:10) is also a solemn and sobering one. Christ is going to take up His rightful dominion as Son of man (Ps. 8). While this will bring in a wonderful time of blessing and peace that the world has never seen, the day of the Lord begins with righteous judgment (see the numerous instances in the Bible where righteousness proceeds peace, such as Isa. 32:17; Heb. 7:2). Judgment is committed to the Son (John 5:22, 27). In God’s grace, that judgment has not been executed yet, and we have been delivered from the coming wrath because the Lord Jesus took our place on the cross (1 Thess. 1:10). However, when He appears, the Lord Jesus will execute righteous judgment across the whole earth and everyone living on it. He will also maintain the same standard of absolute righteousness throughout His 1,000-year reign. Given that this is the standard which will properly apply in the time when He reigns, and we reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4), we ought to be challenged as we read the prophetic scriptures as to whether our conduct today is consistent with what is to come. ‘The day is at hand. … Let us walk properly, as in the day’ (Rom. 13:12, 13 NKJV). And in view of the ultimate end of the earth as set out in 2 Peter 3: ‘since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness’ (v. 11 NKJV). In summary, prophecy (even the more difficult books such as Ezekiel) has a practical bearing, and we therefore do well to take heed to these parts of the Bible.
The world today is a dark place as Peter notes. Nevertheless, we can praise God for His grace in giving us His Word, which worked so miraculously in us when we received it and will continue to help us as we wait and watch for the Lord’s return.