A Colony of Heaven

(Psalm 34:11-182 Corinthians 5:16-211 Peter 3:8-12)

I mentioned a few weeks ago my euphoria when Seattle won the Super Bowl; of course, as any Ravens fan could tell you, after you win, you lose a lot of your players, and so it has been for us.  Some of those departures won’t hurt us much; others will be harder to replace.  Kathy, you can tell your mother she’s going to love Golden Tate for the Lions.  The only two who really stung, though, were a couple of defensive ends who we cut to save money, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons.  Big Red especially, because he’d been the emotional leader of the defense for years.  He gave the team its rallying cry through the past two seasons:  “We all we got—we all we need.”
It’s a great line; and while the line has departed with Big Red, I hope the spirit lives on in that locker room, because that’s the attitude and approach that builds a cohesive team out of a bunch of very different people.  “We all we got,” so we have to depend on one another—no one else is going to show up to help us out if we don’t.  “We all we got,” so we need to build one another up, not tear each other down—we can’t strengthen the team by hurting one of its members.  Any harm we do to another, we do to all of us, including ourselves.  “We all we got,” so it’s up to us to take care of each other and be there to support one another—if we don’t, who will?  And if we take that approach and treat each other that way, then truly, “we all we need.”
This isn’t just true in football, either; in fact, it’s a pretty good one-line summary of Peter’s commands in this passage.  The bookends to verse 8, which NIV translates as “live in harmony” and “be humble,” could more literally be translated “of one mind” and “humble of mind.”  Peter’s point isn’t that we’re all supposed to hold identical opinions, of course.  Rather, he’s saying the same thing Paul says in Romans 12:  we should all have the same mindset as one another, because all our minds are to be set on the things of the Spirit of God.  It’s the mindset Paul describes in Philippians 2:  “Let this mind be in you, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who didn’t insist on his rights or cling to his prerogatives, but opened his hands and let them all go to serve us, humbling himself in obedience, even to the point of death on a cross.”
Yes, we disagree on many things, but we share one salvation in one Lord through one faith by one grace, and none of us has any claim to stand above anyone else.  The more we appreciate our own desperate need for grace—and even the best of us stands in desperate need, make no mistake—the less we will be inclined to look down on others for their need.  The more we see one another as the beloved of Christ, for whom he died and rose again, the less free we will feel to beat one another up to get our own way.  If our focus is on Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit, we will be of one mind and spirit where it matters.  We will be humble toward God and one another, and we will treat each other with love, compassion, and understanding, because we will see ourselves in the light of God’s grace, as people who need love, compassion, and understanding.
This is important for many reasons, both spiritual and practical, and the practical reasons are very much on Peter’s mind here.  He’s still focused on the reality of their lives as outlanders in a suspicious and increasingly hostile world.  He says in verse 9, “Don’t return evil for evil or insult for insult”; the word for insult rarely appears in Scripture, but one of the few places either this noun or its verb form is used in the New Testament is by Peter in 2:23, talking about Jesus.  He’s tying this in to his broader theme:  when we’re treated unjustly, we need to have this mind in us which is ours in Christ Jesus, to trust in God’s justice and not return fire, and to be more concerned for the good of others than for our own pain.
Part of the reality of that is that we can’t do it on our own—we need the support of other believers.  We need the church, and we need it to be functioning as the church.  We’re not going to find help in thinking like Christ and living like Christ from the world; the church is all we have.  We all we got, and we need to treat each other accordingly.  We’re vulnerable, and all the more so if we don’t support and build up one another.  The church in this country has been able to ignore that reality for a long time because we’ve been used to having the support and protection of the powers that be, but that’s going away, ever more quickly.  We’re being reminded that we aren’t a powerful nation on this earth in our own right, but a colony of heaven, dependent on the power of God.
That colony language doesn’t come from Peter or from 2 Corinthians, but from Philippians 3, which we read a few weeks ago.  Philippi was a Roman colony, established to help secure Roman power in that region, and so all the freedmen of the city were given Roman citizenship.  They took great pride in that fact.  When Paul said, “Our citizenship is in heaven,” he was calling them to radically rethink their whole identity—to see them­selves not as a colony of an earthly power, but as a colony of the power of heaven amongthe powers of this world.  Peter here is calling his hearers to the same thing.
Of course, like Philippi, we’re a colony with a purpose beyond merely making money.  We’re here to be the physical representation of the kingdom of heaven on earth.  We’re here to carry forward Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation, calling people to be recon­ciled to God through him.  We’re a diplomatic colony to bear witness to the gospel, that there is salvation in Jesus Christ by grace alone, and that no matter what you’ve done, Jesus loves you enough that he died to save you.  We cannot carry out this mission if we don’t show each other the love and the grace of Christ.
We can’t because we’re a colony.  We’re an outpost.  We can’t appeal to the powers of this world to protect us or to do our job for us.  Not any more.  We all we got in this world.  To borrow from Ben Franklin, we must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.  But God provides and the Spirit is with us, and in his Spirit, we all we need, just as we are.

More than that, we can only carry out our mission if we live with each other in love and grace—to frame it positively—because how we live with each other is how we earn credibility to preach love and grace to those around us.  Why should anyone believe in the sacrificial love of Jesus if they can’t see us laying down our lives in love for one another?  Why should anyone believe that our God is a God of grace if we aren’t a people of grace?  We can only teach people that Jesus lives if they see him living among us.  The only way we earn any credibility to tell them Jesus saves is if we live together as people who have been saved.  May we ever be so, to the glory of God.

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