Opportunity is an optimistic, motivating word, full of promise and hope. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is: ‘A time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something’.
It is a word we find in a wide range of contexts. Winston Churchill commented: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” Boris Pasternak remarked: “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it”.
In a recent sermon on 1 Peter, I noted that people to whom Peter was writing were victims of intolerable oppression. They were living under the Roman Empire, one of the most powerful and ruthless dictatorships the world has known. They had no vote and there was no free speech. Many of his first readers were slaves. Seemingly they had no opportunities in life.
Yet in 1 Peter 2:11-12 we read:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Lifestyle. Peter was saying to his readers – slave and free – that though they were ‘resident aliens’ in this world, through their lifestyle they all had the opportunity to make a difference.
Following Jesus Christ involves a new way of living: Abstain from the sinful desires which wage war against your soul, he says. This is a reference to the desires of our hearts that are out of step with the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount – the lies, the false-witness, the anger, the greed, the lustful look, the adulterous relationship. It is anything that stands against the mind of God.
Let’s think about this: Peter is saying that our inward desires are not uncontrollable. We can nurture them or choose to restrain them. How different this is from the attitudes of many around us who say that our feelings are morally neutral. People laugh at anyone who says that some of the feelings and longings we have are wrong.
And there is something else here: Peter warns us that these longings wage war against our souls. To entertain sinful longings may appear harmless – no one else knows. But he is saying that in reality they are our enemies, because they make us spiritually weak and ineffective.
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (2:12). Good conduct, godly behavior, will not often draw the applause of the crowds. From Broadway to television shows God’s people are mocked. Yet Peter is saying, ‘Yes, there may be times when you are slandered and falsely accused, but the very consistency of our life can lead to the salvation of others.’
By the very life we live, we have the opportunity to make a difference to others. Peter echoes Jesus’ words: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Neither Jesus nor Peter is saying that people are converted by seeing the good works of God’s people. Peter has already said (1:12) we become God’s people only when we respond to God’s gospel. These people glorify God because they have seen the difference in the lives of God’s people and they’ve been drawn to find out what has brought about the change.
The tough question we need to ask ourselves is, ‘What does my life look like to others?’