Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 4.6-11

1 Peter 4.6-11

[6] For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. [7] The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. [8] Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. [9] Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. [10] Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. [11] If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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COMMENTARY: In keeping with his previous interpretation of 3.19, Calvin takes ‘the dead’ in verse six to be those who had received the gospel prior to death. The judgment according to human standards he takes to be death itself, even though from God’s perspective they now live with God in the Spirit. Calvin puts it thusly himself: “So that the meaning is, that though according to the estimation of the world the dead suffer destruction in their flesh, and are deemed condemned as to the outward man, yet they cease not to live with God, and that in their spirit, because Christ quickens them by his Spirit” (126). Believers thus have consolation that our salvation is not negated by death, and that death “does not hinder Christ from being always our defender” (ibid).

Verse 7 is intended to rouse Peter’s readers from apathy, reminding us that “we ought not to sit still in the world, from which we must soon remove” (127). One certainly could not charge Calvin with having a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’ mentality that forgets to labor for the betterment of the hear and now. His is a strenuous ethic of engagement with the world and its problems. For instance, it was largely through his efforts that Geneva installed regulations requiring that porches and balconies on high levels of houses have railings to prevent children from falling off. Also, Calvin was instrumental in establishing schooling and heath-care systems in Geneva to care for the citizens.

Geneva in Calvin’s time was also quite liberal in its welcome of foreign refugees from all across Europe, and this makes even more pointed what Calvin has to say in this passage about hospitality. He calls such behavior “one of the duties of love” (130), and a mutual undertaking so that no one is taken advantage of and so that everyone is cared for. Stewardship is also important here, for Calvin reminds us that “we do not give our own, but only dispense what God has committed to us” (ibid).

The office of teaching and ministry in general represent, for Calvin, case studies in the mutual sharing of gifts that should characterize the church. He sums thing up with on of his paraphrases:
“[It is] as though [Peter] had said, ‘Whatever part of the burden thou bearest in the Church, know that thou canst do nothing but what has been given thee by the Lord, and that thou art nothing else but an instrument of God: take heed, then, not to abuse the grace of God by exalting thyself; take heed, then, not to abuse the grace of God by exalting thyself; take heed not to suppress the power of God, which puts forth and manifests itself in the ministry for the salvation of the brethren [and sistren].”
It is unfortunate that Calvin does not do more with Peter’s language about those who teach speaking the very words of God. Calvin is more interested in reading this as an admonition to teach nothing but what is found in Scripture, which is certainly an important point. He does, however, bring the notion of human ministry as an ‘instrument of God’ into play in the above quote, which moves in this direction.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Very nice.
Altough Calvin is commenting Peter, it seems to me he is indebted to some pf Paul highest ideas: death in live, glory in serving...