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16 December. 2 Peter chapters 1-3 and Jude
Peter’s first letter (see 11 December) was about enduring persecution for the sake of Christ; his second letter is about holding on to the vision of faith while all around are focused on earthly pleasures.
Peter was one of the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ, when God spoke to him audibly and Moses and Elijah appeared to them (1:7,8). He had also seen the risen Jesus for himself. He held onto those very real experiences through the dark times of persecution that followed, never doubting that Jesus would, as he promised, return to complete his salvation of the world (3:8-10).
Therefore, writes Peter, the Christian should “lead a life of holiness and godliness” (3:11), resisting temptation and being distinct from those in the world around who are caught up in the pleasures of the flesh, which lead to addiction and becoming “slaves” to their own desires. Peter particularly singles out lust, greed and drunkenness, but in our own day he would surely have included gambling, and what we call consumerism – accumulating goods for their own sake. The message is similar to that of Jesus who said “it is impossible to serve both God and money”. It is far better, in Peter’s view, to be ‘slaves’ to the discipline of following Christ, than to be ‘slaves’ to one of these forms of addiction.
At this time of year approaching Christmas, many Christian speakers try and draw people away from the futile ‘pleasures’ of consumerism and drunkenness, to remind us that Jesus came to set us free from such addictions in order to have the freedom to serve him, which in fact is the way to a full and satisfying life.
Jude’s concerns in his brief letter (to an unidentified readership) are similar to those of Peter in his second letter: the purity of the Christian witness, at a time when it was threatened by people who claimed to be part of the Christian church but actually brought the faith into disrepute by sexual immorality, grumbling, accusations against others, and so on.
Both these letters, with their references to the sins of Sodom, are used along with other texts from the Bible by those within the church who consider homosexuality to be a sin against those of us who identify as “liberal Christians” who accept it. The distinction that is often lost in arguments between these two parts of the Church is that what liberal Christians consider to be acceptable is a faithful relationship between two people of the same gender, or a celibate lifestyle irrespective of orientation. We agree with the “conservatives” in the church, and with Peter and Jude, that “Licentiousness” (defined by Webster’s dictionary as “lacking legal or moral restraints, especially sexual restraints”) as expressed in a promiscuous lifestyle, is and always will be contrary to God’s intentions, because of the damage caused to individuals where sexual behaviour is separated from love.
But to get bogged down in arguments about where the limits of acceptable sexual behaviour lie, is to risk getting caught in the “wrangling over words and stupid and senseless controversies” against which Paul warned Timothy in yesterday’s reading. At the end of his letter Jude calls us back to the true focus of Christianity: “Jesus Christ our Lord, [to whom] be glory, majesty, power, and authority”.