I’ve recently been studying 1 Peter with some dear friends, and I have been greatly encouraged to press forward in ministry with our Glenwood Team here in Greensboro. Peter writes his letters to “exiles” and there are many times that those of us who live in Glenwood “on purpose” feel like exiles, strangers in a strange land. To feel like a stranger even when you are home can take a toll on your soul, and I take great encouragement from Peter’s exhortations to put my hope not in the seen but in Christ, my living hope who has won my salvation and my eternal place with the Father.
But I began to notice even more that this hope is to be shared in the context of community; that we are to express and experience this hope together, not in isolation. The gospel has transformed us from the inside out to love each other deeply, from the heart (1:22), and the evidence of our transformation doesn’t show up in our religious checklists but rather in how we treat one another.
Peter spends many of his opening lines reminding the church of all they have been given in Christ, and he exhorts them to live holy lives. But the way that this holiness plays out is not in the music that we listen to (or don’t listen to), the TV shows that they watch (or don’t watch). Instead, the standard of holiness isn’t found on a morality checklist but rather in whether or not we are loving God and loving one another. If love is our standard, what to watch/listen to/do will take care of itself., because we will want to obey God and honor our neighbor. Peter does give a checklist, but his list deals with relationships – how are we speaking to one another; are we sowing dissent by our words; are we guarding our hearts from anger and envy. Holiness is revealed in community.
And Peter reminds the church that their witness to the people around them is tied to Christ indwelling their community. Each believer in Christ is a living stone, he says, and everyone knows that you can’t build a building out of just one stone. But when you have many stones, you can put them together to make a dwelling, holy to God and displaying His power and love.
He tells them that they are a chosen people, not merely individuals, but a chosen community that belongs to God, and that the end result of our community should be glory to God, advancement of His mission on earth to seek and save the lost.
Too often I think of myself as a chosen person, an individual pressing forward on my own little path with my own little tasks to accomplish. But God has given me so much more than that. He has brought me into a community, a people, that can reveal the love and Christ in ways that my life on its own cannot. One of the greatest weapons and deceptions of satan is to make Christians believe that they are alone in their journey of faith. To isolate and divide, to cut us off from those who exhort us to run the race (Hebrews 12:1) is an excellent strategy, because the power of unity in community is transformational, both for God’s people and for the watching world. I think that God is moving our Glenwood Team towards this standard. There are days when we may feel like exiles, but we are not alone. We are part of a chosen people, a community raised up for the glory of God, and the blessing of living here is that it is so much easier for us to see our need of one another.