The True Grace of Christian Camaraderie

Desiring God Staff Christmas | Minneapolis

Yesterday I finished the last look at the book on 1 Peter, so it felt like a little epoch came to an end. There are about 100 of those, I think, on 1 Peter. This is overflow from the last paragraph of 1 Peter, which most people would not do as a go-to for Christmas. It goes, I think, like this:

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ (1 Peter 5:12–14).

The True Grace of God

It is amazing to me that when you get a perspective on the five chapters and he puts it in a phrase, he says, “I have written to you briefly this (what I have written briefly) is the true grace of God.” That’s his summary. And he says, “Stand in it.” And I think that’s amazing. This is the true grace of God. So he chose to sum up all that teaching, including 35 imperatives in the letter and lots of encouragement to suffer well, and call it “the grace of God”. Here are the ways he uses it to let you see this is not a surprise ending. First Peter 1:10 says:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully . . .

So when the prophets looked at everything that was coming, they just said, “Grace.” That’s that’s the name of what’s coming, the grace that is to be yours. That’s what we’re talking about back here in the prophets. And then 1 Peter 1:13 says:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Now here we are looking to the second coming and that’s called grace. So the first coming is called grace and the second coming is called grace. It’s not surprising then that he would end by saying, “In this book, I’ve tried to say what the true grace of God is.”

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life . . . (1 Peter 3:7).

Everything you share together in Christ during this life now and forever is called “the grace of life”. First Peter 4:10 says:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

Everything that’s going on in this room in terms of bending vertical blessing into horizontal conversation and ministry is called grace. We’re stewards of grace. And then the last one is 1 Peter 5:10 says:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

It’s all grace. I did pretty much a whole lab on, what in the world does calling God a God of all grace mean? It doesn’t mean he’s only grace because he has wrath and justice, but everything we receive from him is grace. In Christ, everything is grace.

Distortions of Grace

The summary of the whole book is, “This is the true grace of God.” But when I hear the word true, I ask, “Okay, why did he say true? Why didn’t he just say this is the grace of God?” Because as soon as I hear the word true grace, I think, “Oh there’s a false grace.”

He’s distancing himself. There’s one of those and then there’s this. So I thought, now where is that in the New Testament? Where is bad grace, or something that’s not true grace? And Jude 1:4 goes like this:

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

There was abroad in some of the churches a grace preaching that was evil. It was taking grace and making it a means of sensuality, or the old word was “licentiousness”. And that’s alive and well today. It really is. It’s antinomian. That is, it says, “If you’re a grace person, you don’t have to do anything. There’s no obedience to be thought about. Any kind of warnings that you could be in trouble are put aside.” We know people who’ve made shipwreck of their faith because of that kind of emphasis. I think Peter was very aware that the glorious grace of God can be distorted.

Paul sums it up the same way in Acts 14:3. He says “the word of his grace” is the summary of the gospel. Or in Acts 20:24, he says, “I want to finish my course and bear witness to the gospel of the grace of God.” So the good news is summed up as “the grace of God”. Or consider Titus 2:11, and here we are coming to Christmas. Titus 2:11 says:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people . . .

When Paul steps back in Titus and thinks about the incarnation, he describes it as grace that appeared. Grace showed up in a bodily form, and then the most Christmas statement of all about grace, I think, probably is John 1:14, which says:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

That triggers “true grace” in my mind from 1 Peter. This is the “true grace” and Jesus is called the one “in whom is the fullness of grace and truth.”

The Need for Grace and Truth

Now, why do you have to have both? Grace, here’s the way I would define it. Grace is God’s disposition and his action to give us undeserved good, incalculable good, which leaves totally undefined what the good is. If you just define grace as “he’s inclined to treat us good,” and, “he acts to bring us good,” you haven’t said anything very clearly, which is why that other word has to come. Right? Grace and what? Tell us what the good is. I mean we don’t even know what is good for us.

If Christ isn’t the truth — meaning, he is the light that sheds knowledge on what is good for us about God, what is good for us about ourselves, and what is good for us about the world — then we’re just left hanging. We don’t know the world without the truth in Christ. We don’t know ourselves without truth in Christ. We don’t know God without truth in Christ. We don’t know what’s good for us, therefore to talk about God doing good for us is meaningless because we don’t know what’s good for us. We’ll go make sensuality out of grace. So if there’s no truth in Jesus, we’re just left hanging that he’s really good for us and we don’t have a clue what that means.

Brotherly Affection

Well, we do know what it means because the whole New Testament is the unpacking of who Christ is in truth. So this is the true grace of God. And then surrounding that statement are all these personal touches. I want this to feel really personal. Peter says, “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him.” He didn’t even have to mention Silvanus because he said, “I have written briefly to you.” He happened to take down the dictation, evidently. I think it’s probably just that he’s a secretary and goodness, when a CEO writes a letter to his employee, he doesn’t have to mention the stenographer. You don’t have to do that.

But for full disclosure and for a personal tribute and for a faithful brother, he’s going to say it. And I think there’s a flavor there of what I long for us to be and what we are so well. I want there to be absolute candor in this ministry — candor to the people outside, candor to the people inside. Let there be no hidden anything, as if to say, “I’ve got this policy, so I can’t.” Well, can we write a letter for you and you just put your name on it? Let’s not have the attitude, “No, you can’t.” Our names should go on it together. If you wrote it and I shared and I tweaked it, then your name and mine go on it. That’s just the way we’re going to do it.

There are little things like that, I long for us to be completely candid. You don’t have to mention Silvanus, but yeah, let’s mention Silvanus. And let’s talk about his character. And then I thought, why did he feel like he needed to call him “faithful”? Because if he’s just a secretary, Peter could pick up the manuscript and read it and say, “Okay, that’s good enough. Send it on.” He didn’t even need to be faithful. He wouldn’t even have to be a believer, unless maybe Peter was blind by this time. I don’t know. For some reason he felt like it was important that Silvanus is faithful. If you’re writing a letter and I’m blind and I can’t ever read it, you better be faithful. Or even if I’m not blind and you write it and I check it and give it back to you, you might, on the way to give it to them, mess with it.

And then I thought, wow, trust is a big issue in life. Trust is a big issue in life. If you drive down the road 60 miles an hour one way and other people are driving 60 miles an hour the other way, I’m just trusting you not to swerve. We make decision after decision on the basis of trust, and as they get personal, like marriage, it gets even more important. Wow, it’s been 47 years. I had no idea what we were in for. I had no idea what it would mean. And you trust.

I think Peter probably wanted to get personal and say, “Look it’s Silvanus we’re talking about. It’s faithfulness we’re talking about. You know him. He’s the same one that worked with Paul. There’s this overlap between Paul’s team and Peter’s team.”

Personal Greetings

Then he says, “She who is at Babylon . . . greets you.” What’s that? Almost all contemporary commentators say that is a codename for the church in Rome. He says, “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, greets you.” You know Alfred, my favorite 19th century commentator, thinks it’s his wife and she’s really in Babylon on the Euphrates and Mark is the name of his real biological son, and he has arguments and I like them. It’s just in a feminine participle. The word church is feminine in Greek, and so it’s natural to call the church a she. Babylon was a code named for Rome in the book of Revelation. I get that. I have no problem at all if that’s what it means. He would be saying, “The church in Rome, where I am presently,” if that’s the case, “is sending you greetings.”

Here’s the interesting thing. He uses the phrase “likewise chosen.” At the beginning of the letter, the place where he referred to those he’s writing as being chosen is not churches, it’s individuals. He says, “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia . . .” (1 Peter 1:1). Those are people, those are individuals. He says, “She who is likewise chosen.” That’s a pretty good argument, I think, to say that if they’re individuals in 1 Peter 1:1, they’re probably individuals in 1 Peter 5:11.

Here’s another interesting thing. Look at the five Roman provinces that he mentions in 1 Peter 1:1:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia . . .

Those are written from an eastern perspective. Now he starts with the one and goes over in a circle, but if he was running from Rome, he would go the other way. Alfred points that out and I think, “Is that valid?”

Here’s the third observation. Why would you go from the church to Mark, an individual? Would he say, “The church who is in Babylon greets you, and so does Mark.” Well he’s part of the church. What’s the reason for going to Mark, my son? Now we know that John Mark was the son of Mary in whose house Peter went in Acts 12, and who, according to Eusebius, was the interpreter of Peter. So they worked hand in glove. It would be totally natural for him to call John Mark his spiritual son in the faith. That’s not a problem. And that’s what most people think.

But Alfred didn’t think that. He thinks he named his son after Mark. He thinks this is his real wife and his real son. And they’re living, Peter and she, in Babylon on the Euphrates because there was a big Jewish community there. We know that from Philo and we know it from Josephus, and Peter is the apostle to the Jews.

Well, I don’t know the answer. I don’t know which it is. But in either case, especially the reference to his son, is personal. He’s writing to all these churches in those five provinces of Rome and he’s going to name Mark, and either the church here sends greetings or his wife sends greetings. And he’s saying, “We love you.”

Affection in the Family of God

Then he tells them, “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Peter 1:14). Isn’t it remarkable that a letter about suffering, a letter about affliction, would end on such an affectionate note?

You notice it if you go back and look at all the places where he talks about the church as family, the church as loving each other. Listen, just get the flavor. In 1 Peter 1:22, he says:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart . . .

The love is to be sincere. The love is to be brotherly. The love is to be earnest. The love is to be pure. That is not your ordinary, “Well, I’m just going to treat you nicely.” That’s way, way more than treating each other nicely in this office, or treating each other nicely in the ministry. This means feeling affection for each other. That’s what it says.

Or listen to 1 Peter 2:17, which says:

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

So the brotherhood gets the word love in that list. Or listen to 1 Peter 3:8, which says:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

Those are amazingly affectionate, warm, humble feelings, not just behaviors of respect. He speaks of sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. And then in 1 Peter 4:8, he says:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

The Kiss of Love

When he gets to the end and he starts naming people like “she and Mark send you greetings,” he tells them to kiss each other. He says, “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14). You might say, “Okay, is that a mandate? Is that a transcultural expression so that we should all be kissing each other? Or is it something more culturally adapted so that you use a culturally appropriate sign of affection?” My response to that question is first, well I doubt if you even push in on Peter’s day that he meant every time somebody goes in here and stays for one minute and walks back out they need to kiss again.

So how long can you stay out before you need to kiss again? There are no rules, right? I mean when it says “kiss each other with the kiss of love,” is it like every third time we see each other at Bethlehem? I walk into church and there’s 40 or 50 people who recognize me in my little corner and I have to go kiss them when I come in, and when we walk out I’m going to do it again? You start realizing how silly it is to get too picky even before you cross a culture. I mean just in that culture, you can’t force it to mean every time you leave a room and come back in. That’s probably not what it means.

Well then how often? I think Peter would look at me and say, “Whenever you feel it, and if you don’t, we have a problem.” Isn’t that the point? He doesn’t mean, “Let’s all be hypocrites now and fake affections for each other.” He is talking about real, earnest, heartfelt, family affection. I kissed my dad every time I met him. He would leave for two or three weeks. He’d come home, and I’d meet him at the airport and I’d kiss him and he’d kiss me. We did that till the day he died. I kissed him a minute before he died. I kissed my dad on the cheek. He kissed me. My boys don’t always hug me in a way that makes it easy for me, but I get in there as close as I can and kiss them on their neck. They’re taller than I am. I have to get up there and do that. We’re going to do that with these boys.

So as far as this culture is concerned, I would say what is close to this? If nothing is close, probably we have issues. There are ethnic issues that keep you from doing it. I mean, I could say some groups are real kissy and other groups are cool and some are huggers and some are not huggers. And I’ll just say Peter is reaching out at Desiring God, and I think as we relate to each other he wants us to have real sweet affection for each other, not just dutiful behaviors of respect. So it is a remarkable way to end this letter. The grace of God is overflowing with Silvanus and his wife, maybe, and his son and all of you kissing each other, so suffer for Jesus.

A Precious Partnership

I’ll tell you, if you’re in the situation where the fiery ordeal is upon you, like if we were surrounded right now by a mob outside of about a thousand Christian-hating people with machetes, love would cover a multitude of sins in this room. It would.

We would forget all the foibles that have annoyed us and we would be so together on our knees. So I love you very much. I love your partnership. I love your participation in this ministry. It means more to me than I can put into words easily that at 70 I am surrounded by so many young, faithful people, pulling in the same direction to spread a passion for the supremacy of God. So please know that I do not take for granted your presence here or wherever you happen to live, and also the spouses who support this. I value this comradery enormously.

I don’t know how long I’ll have and I don’t know what it will be like as I fail. I feel strong. I feel way too strong for my grandkids. I think my grandkids should start viewing me as old now so I don’t have to play so much. But they do not assume I’m old, and therefore I can play everything that they play and soccer and Frisbee and board games and card games and wrestling and there are no limitations on grandpa. Well, that’s going to change. I mean there comes a point where grandpa can just watch.

Would that be cool? Probably not. I should not resent the tiredness I feel after a long day at the grandkids house since it’s precious. But anyway, here, I don’t know what that’ll look like and nobody does. But I’ve watched Desiring God be formed over the last 10 years into what we never dreamed it would be. I have total confidence that’s going to be just fine. That is going to be just fine, whatever that looks like.

Encouragement and Enduring Ministry

When I think of those of you, especially in advancement, I’m moved by thousands of people who each day feel loved by you. Some of you they know, and others of you they don’t. They feel loved by this ministry. I meet them and they tell me with tears regularly what you mean to them. They put it in different words of the impact it’s having.

We were on the beach the day before Thanksgiving in California. I was visiting my son, Abraham, and I’m building the sandcastle with my grandkids. And they’re in the water. It’s 59 degrees. The water is freezing. I had total energy, and I’m building a sandcastle. I love to build sandcastles because there is a design and I made a tunnel all the way through that came in one side and out the other. I still totally love it. And this guy walked up to me, a big hispanic guy, I assume. He was handsome as all get out. He looked like he was taking care of a disabled sister, wife, or friend. I don’t know. She was not completely whole. He was so loving and kind to her and helping her enjoy the beach.

He said, “You’re John Piper.” And I said, “Yep.” He said, “I won’t get in your space, but thank you for Desiring God because it has gotten me through some really hard times.” And he was totally earnest. I mean, he didn’t have to go from awkward to earnest. He was just flat out earnestly thanking me for hard times gotten through with Desiring God. And all of you have a hand in that. You should feel so encouraged that whatever part of the ministry you do to make that possible, who would’ve thought standing on a beach the day before Thanksgiving in Manhattan Beach, California, out of the blue a guy says, “You got me through with that ministry.”

So thousands of people are loving us with their money and they’re feeling loved by you. God has given us great work to do and he wants us to do it together. If you have loved ones who are not believers, then you know how texts like this just fill you with longing, right? When he says, “kiss with the kiss of love,” and, “a faithful brother, wife, or son greets you in the Lord,” you have kids or dads or moms or sisters or brothers who don’t give you the kiss of love. They’re not a faithful brother. They don’t send Christian greetings. And you realize Christmas time is a time of both-and, already and not yet, joy and sorrow.

This is the true grace of God, and it has become flesh in Jesus. So as you celebrate Christmas and you ponder him, remember he is full of grace. It’s God’s disposition and action to give you the good you don’t deserve and truth to fill you with the light of the good about God and about yourself and about the world. Thank you so much for your partnership in the ministry at every level.