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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Preaching to the Converted


“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power,but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 2 Peter 1:16-17

We may have heard of the expression, ‘preaching to the converted.’ We use it to describe the act of trying to convince someone of something that they already believe. Some suggest that this is a fruitless exercise. Yes, they say, we should try to argue convincingly to change a person’s view on an important matter, but why contend for something that people already accept as true? It is pointless. That is how the thinking goes. But is it true? What do we think?

Peter definitely has an opinion on this matter, particularly as it relates to the church of Jesus Christ. In previous weeks we have looked at the opening 11 verses of Peter’s second letter. Now in verse 12, Peter makes an admission about the things that he has just told them. He says, ‘(you already) know them.’ He adds that, ‘you now have’ this ‘truth’; you already possess it. He confirms this with, ‘you… are firmly established in the truth.’ Peter is preaching to the converted. Is he mad, or is he right? Peter believes he is ‘right’. He adds, in verse 13, ‘I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live…’

In my garage, I have quite a few things that I ‘know’ are in that building. I ‘know’ that there is a tin of paint there, which I could use to touch up the kitchen walls of the house that we sold 8½ years ago! If the people who bought that property from us, contacted me this afternoon to see if I had that paint, I would say, ‘I know that I do.’ If they then said that they were arriving in 5 minutes, I would quickly stop them. Why? Because, I don’t ‘know’ exactly where it is. How can I know but, at the same time, not know? It is related to frequency of use. To say that I use that paint infrequently, is a massive overstatement. Gradually, things that I use more frequently have built up in front of it. It is well and truly buried. By contrast, if you asked to borrow some bicycle chain lube, I would be totally confident of instantly handing it over. Because, I use it all the time. It even has its own spot at the very front of my favourite shelf.

Our minds are limited. Like my garage, they have a finite capacity. Not everything can be ‘front of shelf’. The things of everyday can quickly push God’s truth back. This is what Peter aims to correct. He wants to pull God’s truth forward continually, to the front of our minds, so that we can use it all the time. This letter is full of practical instruction.

The apostle Paul is no different. He writes about how important it was to ‘remind’ believers of things that they were already ‘filled’ with, in Romans 15:14-15. And in Philippians 3:1 he says this, ‘It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.’

Over the last two decades particularly, there has been a massive increase in the use of the term ‘safeguarding’. Our collective naivety has been challenged by high profile Police investigations, such as Operation Yewtree. We are more aware of the need to ‘safeguard’ those in society that are particularly vulnerable, including children and young people.

Particularly, but not exclusively, when faith is in its infancy, it needs safeguarding. Paul knew it. Peter knew it. So should we. Naturally, our ears ‘itch’ for new things. But, let us be more content with constant reminders of things already known. If this was ‘no trouble for’ Paul, then it should be ‘no trouble for’ us. Peter too, in 2 Peter, ‘make(s) every effort’ (v.15) to ‘refresh your memory’ (v.13). He has a set amount of time to do so. He says, ‘… as long as I live in the tent of this body.’ Peter’s tent! It is a really helpful picture that can teach us about Peter’s view of earthly life.

Has anyone heard of Max Woosey? As an eleven year old boy, Max has really achieved something. In August of this year (2021), Max spent his 500th consecutive night sleeping in a tent. He started out in his back garden on 28th March 2020, inspired by a family friend who died of cancer and left Max his tent. Max has become quite famous, even getting to pitch his tent in the back garden of No.10 Downing Street, London, and meet its current resident, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Why has Max become famous? Because, what he has done is not ‘the norm’. Max is the exception that proves the rule. The rule is that we don’t live in a tent perpetually. They are designed as a temporary dwelling place. We might choose to take one to the Lake District for a week, perhaps on the basis that being soaked during the daytime isn’t quite enough for us! But after that relatively short period, we pack up and come home.

By illustrating his earthly life as a tent, Peter is placing it in the context of everlasting life. Again, Paul uses similar imagery to Peter. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, he says, ‘For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven…’ Paul even says, ‘while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened…’, and ‘we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling.’ It is as if Paul feels like he is sat in his tent, at the foot of Helvellyn, in wet clothes, in January, moaning and groaning, just wanting to go home and get changed.

Does life sometimes feel like a wet, weekend in Cumbria? Well, when it does, think of home. Peter, in verse 11 of today’s chapter, talks of a ‘rich welcome’ there. Paul tells us, in Philippians 1:23, that there we will, ‘be with Christ, which is better by far.’ It is a home where shivering, and misery, are banished for good. Those things will have ‘passed away’, as Revelation 21:4 promises us. It is a solid prospect, of a solid home, built on a solid foundation. It’s the foundation that props up God’s family now, and will ensure his believing people’s eternal standing. What foundational ‘cornerstone’ is this? Paul reminds us, in Ephesians 2:20, it’s ‘Christ Jesus himself’. What did Christ Jesus, himself, tell us? My Father’s house has many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).

In the very near future, Peter knows that he will ‘put… aside’ his tent and leave this earthly campsite. He refers to this, in verse 14, as something, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.’ This is most probably a reference to what is recorded in John 21:15-23. Before the death of Jesus, Peter had denied his master three times. When questioned as to whether he was a disciple, Peter had lied. ‘I am not’, he said (John 18:17 & 25). After his resurrection, when Jesus lovingly restores Peter, it seems significant that Jesus poses a very similar question, and poses it three times. Jesus wants it to be known that Simon Peter is now willing to admit to discipleship. He asks him, ‘Simon… do you love me?’ He replies truthfully now. The death and rising again of Jesus have transformed this failure of a man, just as they can transform us. Peter says to Jesus, ‘you know that I love you.’

Jesus instructs Simon Peter to, therefore, ‘feed’ his people, and to ‘follow’ him. He tells Peter that he will follow him even to death. Verses 18-19 of John 21, give the promise that Peter will be faithful in dying a martyr’s death. From that day forward, until his death, Peter has a new resolve, as Acts 5:42, to ‘never stop… teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah’, and, as 1 Peter 5:2 (AV), to ‘feed the flock of God’.

In verse 15 of today’s chapter, Peter reiterates his resolve, ‘I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.’ Peter is confident that the believers were ‘firmly established’ (v.12). Peter knows that the church is not dependant on Peter. After Peter dies, the church will not die out with Peter’s passing. This is so important for us as churches now. It is so important for church leaders to keep in mind always. The only ‘man’ that the church must rely on is ‘the man’. ‘The man’ that we find in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, ‘the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.’

So, if the church isn’t reliant upon Peter, if it is firmly established upon Jesus Christ, ongoing, then what is it that Peter is trying to do here? What is his sense of purpose now as death approaches? If only we had a picture to help us out! Well, we do.

There is a beautiful illustration found in the Old Testament, in 1 Chronicles 29. King David had a resolve. He wanted to build a temple for Jehovah God. But God had spoken to David and told him that this was not something that David was chosen, or qualified to do (1 Chronicles 28:3). Instead, David’s son, Solomon, was to oversee this important project, after David had died. As a result, David could have taken a different approach. He could have thought, ‘Well this isn’t my job. Once I‘m gone, I’m gone. What will be will be.’ He could even have thought, ‘Well, God has promised to be with Solomon in this work, so I cannot make any difference.’ But David didn’t. The reason that David was minded to build a temple in the first place, was because his heart was right towards his God. The ongoing worship of the Lord was really important to David. Perhaps this helped him get over his initial disappointment. It certainly informed his subsequent actions.

David assessed the situation. He said, ‘My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God.’ David realised that he could help by supplying building materials for this job, in advance. That is what he did. He got the building materials ready, including quite extra-ordinary amounts of silver and gold and precious stones, so that the work could prosper after his death.

That is exactly what Peter is doing here. He is leaving the church with the necessary building materials, so that the church can prosper when he has gone. Yes, it is a somewhat different principle, under the New Covenant. Peter isn’t leaving behind ‘material’ materials! He is leaving spiritual materials. Things that will build up souls. Not precious stones, like onyx, but very great and precious promises, and copious amounts of gold nuggets of truth; God’s truth.

Peter knows that truth is vital. In verses 16-21, he bases his argument upon truth. ‘When we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power’, we were not following, ‘cleverly devised stories’ (v.16). Peter can see what lies ahead for the church. In chapter 2, he is going to deal with the matter of falsehood; lies. This is a big part of the ongoing tribulation that the church of Jesus Christ encounters, in this New Testament age. It suffers from the effects of false teaching. At times it seems like a plague. It is devilish in origin. But there is a remedy. That remedy is truth.

Around two hundred years ago, the church, in this country, was really suffering. People had come in, and were saying that error perhaps wasn’t that bad. The suggestion was that maybe it would better to just let things slide a bit to avoid conflict. In a meeting to discuss this matter, a Baptist Pastor, named Abraham Booth stood up. If I ever come up with eight words of such quantity and quality then I’ll retire a happy man! He said, ‘If error is harmless, truth must be worthless.’ Mr Booth was driven to contend for gospel truth.

Jude in his short letter, instructs the church to do the same. He saw the danger facing the church from false teaching. Jude (v.3) says, ‘I… urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.’ Peter is doing the same. It is as if he is before a courtroom. The question that is being confronted is this, ‘is Jesus really God’s promised Son?’

Before his death, Jesus underwent a mock trial. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Was he? Through misconceived self-interest, people had decided that he was not. But Jesus, and his claims, continue to be on trial. Is there truth in Jesus? Is Jesus ‘the truth’ (John 14:6) as he claimed to be? Many, many people will answer this vitally important question with a ‘No’.

Peter gives a resounding ‘Yes!’ He brings two things forward; evidence and eye-witness testimony. These are the two main things that help a courtroom to reach the correct verdict. Peter refers to something known as the ‘transfiguration’. In Matthew 17, we read of this. Jesus had taken three of his followers, including Peter, up a high mountain. ‘There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light’ (Matthew 17:2). Jesus was radiant. His God-like glory and majesty were seen. But not just seen. Peter claims to be an eye-witness and, also, an ear-witness. Peter heard! Peter heard God the Father give his own testimony about Jesus. ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (2 Peter 1:17).

And there is more. Peter points us to the abundance of Old Testament prophecy, which predicted the coming of God’s Son. In those, ‘completely reliable’ (v.19) pages, his character is detailed. There we learn of his life, and his suffering, and his death. Peter links this Old Testament illumination, to the more glorious light seen during that special moment on that mountain, which he witnessed. Peter says that the Old Testament, ‘Scripture’ (v.20), is like, ‘a light shining in a dark place’. Then it becomes like sunrise, in the picture that Peter paints. The scriptures that point us to Christ bring the promise and possibility of a glorious new day of life. Peter continues, ‘until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’ What is this ‘morning star’? Revelation 22:16 tells us, ‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.’

The Bible has turned the world upside down. How fitting, then, that on the very last page, we find something that we might expect to be at the beginning; sunrise - an explanation of gospel sunrise!

This first chapter of 2 Peter is concluded with the reason why we can rely on all the truth that is found in the bible. It comes down to its origin. It begins with God. The last verse says, ‘For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

When we read Isaiah’s wonderful prophecies, do we ever wonder how Isaiah came to such a wonderful interpretation of what was to come? He didn’t come to it. God carried him there. When we read Isaiah, or Daniel, or David’s words in the Psalms, we aren’t simply reading about the way that these men perceived life to be. We are reading a message from God himself. A message to us about truth and light, that would gradually increase with his unfolding revelation, and would ultimately shine with glorious radiance when Jesus came to this earth.

What is God’s message; his testimony about Jesus? ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Peter heard it. His life’s work was to repeat, over and over again, this message to people, so that they might be established in the saving truth of Jesus Christ. And the truth is this – if we obey the command of Jesus, given to Peter, but also given to us, to ‘Follow me’; if we align ourselves ‘with him’, of whom God said ‘with him I am well pleased’, then God is ‘well pleased’ with us.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’ Let us be encouraged to seek continually.

Jesus said this, ‘‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Matthew 7:7-8).


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