Peter mixes the powerlessness of his readers, who were resident aliens and temporary residents — a social descriptor, with the challenge of bringing God’s redemptive work in Christ to Asia Minor and he begins by exhorting them to do God’s work in God’s way. And now he tells the same folks to be benefactors of the community. Yes, that’s right. Benefactors.
They are to be people of “good conduct” (2:12a — first word in Greek) among the Gentiles and people of “excellent deeds”. Bruce Winter, at one time Warden of Tyndale House (I don’t know if he still is), wrote an important book on this topic and it is called Seek the Welfare of the City and his central claim for us is that what Peter is speaking of here is acts of benefaction in a community, done by the Christians to demonstrate that they were good citizens, good people, and worthy of trust. This theme dominates 2:13–3:12: be good people; maintain a good reputation — but Peter’s strategy is not overwhelmed by the honor-seeking of the Greek and Roman worlds but by glory-reflecting to God. Here’s a quotation from p.21 of his book:
“The observation of their high-profile good works would not only be an eloquent defence of ill-founded allegations against Christians accused of being evil-doers, it would also be the mean by which critics became converts who glorified God ‘in the day of visitation’ i.e. the day referring to personal salvation.”
Here’s a commentary on what Peter was urging the Christians to do, and it comes from Embracing Grace and it comes from the first draft of that story, one that applies a little more here:
Tucked into a public building at the corner of highway 173 and 83, in Antioch, Illinois, is a burgeoning church. The pastor is Mark Albrecht and the worship leader is his wife, Michelle. Michelle’s brush with cancer led both Mark and Michelle to a deeper level of commitment to gospel ministry, and so, with the blessing of their mother church, Hawthorn Hills Community Church, in Libertyville, Illinois, Mark and Michelle, and a couple dozen others decided to plant a church in Antioch.
But, instead of spending all their energies raising funds to raise another church building, NorthBridge Church’s families decided that they want to make a difference in their community. Consider these facts: the percent of money given to local churches is nearly exhausted by building expenses, salaries, and fees, with very little (if any) left for the community in which those communities live. What I mean by “communities in which they live” is clear enough: I mean the “needs that arise in the community,” and not just evangelistic or mission events. This helps explain why only 44% of American non-Christians think positively of the clergy, why only 32% think positively of “born-again” Christians, and why only 22% think well of evangelical Christians.
Knowing these figures, Pastor Mark Albrecht and his team leaders are exploring a new paradigm for NorthBridge. When Mark, along with other church leaders in the area, heard about the financial crisis in the Grass Lake school district, he approached the Superintendent Jim Beveridge and asked what they, as churches, could do. Jim informed Mark that an old school building was out of code, no longer usable, but that it would cost over a quarter of a million or so to rehabilitate. Mark and the leaders convened, prayed, and came up with a plan: they decided to fix the building, but not by hiring it out, but with volunteer labor from the churches. Together – something local churches often struggle with – they fixed that old building, and the costs were about a tenth of expectations because of the volunteer labor poured into the project.
Church work and community help, gospel ministry and social ministry got all wound up into one effort and both benefited – and the gospel was heard. Instead of pouring scorn on the local school administrators, instead of yanking their kids out of under-funded schools, instead of raising funds for another private Christian school, these churches entered the public square and did what they could to help – and they got “nothing” out of it.
They also got nothing out of ShareFest, another community event organized by Pastor Albrecht and NorthBridge Church. The community had a bundle of needs, mostly undone and lower on the priority list of things that would be done anytime soon, so ShareFest was organized. Some people painted fire hydrants, others painted a public works building, some winterized senior citizens’ homes, while others worked in the local wetlands. There was a clothing and food drive as well as a musical performance. Albrecht was quoted in the local Antioch Press: “We went out and asked, ‘How can we help?’ It was kind of revolutionary.”
Pastor Albrecht is not doing this by himself; he does not want the credit or the glory or the attention. He wants to see the gospel embodied at NorthBridge Church, and he wants to be part of it. It is an exciting work, and many churches throughout the world are catching a new vision of the gospel today.