Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Wisdom 12 – “Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord” (12:1-2).
The author explains that God made way for the Jews in the holy land of Canaan because the ancient people there practiced loathsome rites of child sacrifice. Yet God “treated them [the Canaanites] leniently . . . [giving] them a chance to repent” (12:9).
The theme seems to be that while God intended to supplant the Canaanites so that his people could be established in their Promised Land, he treated the Canaanites with justice and patience – as an example of how all power should be exercised. Even the practices of child sacrifice and cannibalism [not proven historically according to the New Jerusalem footnote] did not bring on sudden and definitive destruction.
“You show your strength when your sovereign power is questioned and you expose the insolence of those who know it; but, disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgment, you govern us with great lenience, for you have only to will, and your power is there” (12:17-18).
By being this kind of God you teach us “how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men, and you have given your sons the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance” (12:19).
1 Peter 3 – Wives are advised to submit themselves to their husbands “so that if any of them do not believe God’s word, our conduct will win them over to believe” (3:1). He also advises women not to spend time worrying about outward things like dresses or jewelry. “Instead, your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God’s sight” (3:4). And again, he points to Sarah as an example of a woman who “obeyed” her husband and called him “master” (3:6). Husbands should treat their wives with respect.
It is understandable that many women find this kind of advice hard to listen to, and for some it undermines the respect they have for Scripture generally. Somehow it has never struck me this way. I see Scripture as embodying the culture of the age in which it was written, but it also reflects a gradual movement of God’s spirit of love into the culture and thinking of those who are trying hard to be faithful.
Members of the churches are advised above all to “love one another, and be kind and humble with one another” (3:8).
Have “reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have . . . but do it with gentleness and respect” (3:15).
If you suffer for doing what you are called to do as a Christian, you will have a clear conscience. “For Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually, and in his spiritual existence he went and preached to the imprisoned spirits . . . the spirit of those who had not obeyed God when he waited patiently during the days that Noah was building his boat” (3:18-20). The writer refers to the Noah story here to note that the water of the flood was “a symbol pointing to baptism, which now saves you. It is not the washing off of bodily dirt, but the promise made to God from a good conscience” (3:21).