Read IPet. 1:22-2:3.
Notice what Peter calls those whom he is addressing. He calls them newborn babes who should desire the pure milk of the word. (v. 2:2) This kind of language should remind us of other passages where this language is used: Heb. 5:12-6:2, ICor 3:1-4. In these passages, reference to being "new born babes" only able to take milk, not solid food, is meant as a rebuke. Those Christians being addressed are not where they should be at that point in their Christian walk. However, Peter is writing to those "new born babes" that are precisely where they ought to be in their new relationship with Jesus.
We rightly hold to a higher standard those who have been in the faith the longest. Some say "I have been saved these past forty years", but do nothing but gossip and bring division. When judging their fruit, we have a right to wonder rather they have truly been saved. We are also justified in being careful not to offend new believers with too many demands. A friend of mine told me one day how he and his wife were concerned about the way his cousin, a new believer, was dressing. "We would like to talk to you about the way you dress" they said as they brought up the subject. "I know" she said. "You ought to see how I dressed before I became a Christian." The couple felt the Spirit telling them to back off. But are there standards to which we should hold new believers to account? Yes. But how do we counsel new believers who are doing what they should be doing? Should we just let the Lord deal with them with no input from older Christians? I have seen this done. The result is that these believers do not become all that Jesus wants them to be, or they abandon the faith. So I ask again, how do we cousel new believers; to what standards do we hold them accountable to? The example of Peter writing to these new converts serves as a model for us in this matter.
Just who were these new believers Peter was writing to? They were new converts being persecuted by Rome under Nero. They made their faith known, they did not hide their light under a bushel, and they were paying for it with their lives. This is the persecution, some thirty years after Christ's death and resurrection, that would eventually claim the lives of both Paul and Peter. However, Peter had yet not undergone the same suffering as those to whom this letter was addressed. This could have posed a problem for Peter. After all, did he not deny the Lord three times. We don't know, but Satan could have tried to discourage Peter from writing this letter. Satan could have taunted him, saying, "You hypocrite! Who are you to be giving counsel to these people. You denied Jesus three times, and yet you think you have the right to tell these people how to behave! I wouldn't be surprised if they told you to mind your own business." Fortunately, Peter knew he had been not only forgiven, but charged by Jesus himself to feed the sheep. Satan tries to discourage us as well when we try to counsel others. When we try to teach others to obey the gospel, Satan often brings back to our memory times when we have engaged in alcohol or drug abuse, or sexual immorality. Satan wants us to shrink back and say nothing, leaving him to do his work on those we need to help. But if we know that our sins are forgiven, we can give Satan his walking papers and do the works the Lord has called us to do.
So, how does Peter go about counseling these baby Christians. In IPet 1:1, he reminds them that they are pilgrims, temporary residents on earth that are not weighed down by the surrounding culture, like Abraham. Abraham knew that where ever he set his foot, that land would belong to his decendants one day. But he knew that this promise from God would not be fulfilled in his lifetime. So he just wandered the land, living in tents, not becoming captive to the ways of the inhabitants. In v.2, Peter reminded them that God had ordained before time that they would be members of God's elect, chosen to be sanctified for the purpose of obedience. In v. 3-9, Peter encourages these believers that their trial will only be of short duration and that for such suffering they will receive their reward, whether they survive the current persecution or not. In verses 10-12, Peter reminds them that the prophets often did not fully understand God's plan for the world's salvation. Even the angels long to look into these things, Peter says. However, these prophets realized that they were not serving themselves, but those who in the fullness of time would experience the ministry they were prophesying about. That has implications for us. When we undergo trials, it is not just for our individual faith, but we endure them so we may help those who later go through them to come out victorius.
Then Peter swiches gears in v. 13. He starts out with the word "Therefore". "On the basis of all I said before," Peter says, "now do this." Peter is not proclaiming any legalistic rules, but he is telling those who would follow Jesus what they ought to do in response to what God has done for them. Peter tells them not to revert under pressure to their former behavior prior to salvation. Why? We are to be holy because God is holy. We who have been part of the Church for a long time are used to this verse being used to bring revival to our lives. But here, Peter is telling new, baby Christians that holiness is their standard too. So what does this holiness look like? Not only are they not to live as they formerly did, but Peter calls them to deal with the more subtle sins in 2:1. No malice, no deceit, no hypocrisy, no envy, no evil speaking. The standard of the new Christian is to love as Jesus loved. Under pressure, it would be easy to become divided and suspicious of others which would lead to sin. But Peter holds up the standard of Love, and the means of growth is more love. If one loves his neighbor, them he won't speak or think evil of him. I once saw an interview with Corrie Ten Boom. She was preaching in an African country where the church was undergoing great persecution. It was dangerous for her to be there. As she preached one Sunday, the congregation looked discouraged and defeated. After the service was over, she saw them leave with the love of God on their faces. One week later, she came back to that church. The majority of those who were there the week before were dead. They had a new testimony of God, and they did not hide it. And they paid with their lives. But as did Stephen, they died showing the love of God in their lives.
When Jesus told his church to go and make disciples, he told them (and us) to teach people how to love. When we take in members into the church today, we give them information, doctrine. There is nothing wrong with doctrine. But when we allow people into the church without explaining the biblical standard of Love, then as time passes, many church people become hard in their hearts and poison the church. Today, there have been people saved who will be dead tomorrow. Does God care how much doctrine they have accumulated in the previous twenty-four hours? No. Just that they love the Lord and their neighbor to the best of their ability. I value doctrine highly. But if I had only one day to counsel a new believer, I would rather that new believer knew and made ICor13 part of his life than if he could rightly exegete the book of Romans. We must understand, like Peter did, that the Great Commission calls us to make disciples. And disciples are those whose growth is determined by how much they love God and their neighbor.