Our Mission Begins in the Mirror: Soul-Winning in 2 Peter 3

Peter claims in 2 Peter 3:1 to be writing a “second epistle.” Assuming that the first epistle is in fact the one we know as 1 Peter, he writes 2 Peter, “To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). 1 Peter makes it clear that these Christians lived in an incredibly antagonistic environment and were facing trials because of it (e.g., 1:6-7; 2:12; 3:16-17; 4:12-13). By the time of the second epistle, the church was on the eve of even more trials from false teachers within the church (2 Peter 2:1-19) and from scoffers outside of the church (3:3-4). What did Christians living in such a difficult environment need to focus on?

In 2007, I made a short-term mission trip to Australia. The leadership at one of the congregations I worked with met with me and expressed a desire for me to move to Australia and work with them full time. One of the men there had me into his home for a meal, and asked me, “If you came here and didn’t win a single soul to the Lord but kept the church faithful, would you feel you had succeeded?” He qualified the question by explaining how difficult of an environment Australia was for Christians. My mind ran to the example of Noah saving only his family, and I said, “Yes.” Yet, when I returned to that congregation almost two years later to work with them full time, that man had sadly left both the Lord and his family. While it’s important to acknowledge the difficulties an environment creates for evangelism, it’s perhaps even more important to acknowledge the difficulty an environment creates for me.

Peter’s audience wasn’t exempt from evangelism. Peter alludes to the evangelistic effort expected of Christians everywhere when he said, “…be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:2). The prophets had laid a foundation of faith for the Christian church and the apostles had added to it (Ephesians 2:20). The expectation of the New Testament is for individuals to take up these words and continue to build on this foundation.

Though this expectation cannot have been far from his mind, the aim of Peter in stirring up their minds (2 Peter 3:1) and encouraging them to “be mindful of the words” was not to encourage them in evangelism or even to prepare them for failure in evangelism. His aim was to equip them for the coming of Jesus. He did this by describing their opposition (3:3-4), defeating this opposition’s arguments (3:4-6), affirming the truth (3:7-8), and then defending that truth (3:9-10). Even still, Peter’s focus is not really the opponents, but the faithful; he tells them to remain faithful in light of what he has just said (3:11-13).

The chapter’s conclusion is not very different than what came before it. Peter encourages them again to reflect upon the truth he has just taught and even to compare it with what they’ve learned from Paul (3:14-15). In saying this, he knows that some people misunderstand Paul and even actively distort his teachings (3:16). However, again, his hope is not for them to persuade these individuals or even to stand against their efforts but to “beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness” (3:17) and finally to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18).

Churches that never look outward are destined to die, and in some ways, the best offense against the false teachers and scoffers is to go on the offensive and try to win more souls for Jesus. At the same time, anyone convinced of the reality of apostacy and active opponents to the Christian faith ought to be actively guarding his heart. When an airplane cabin depressurizes and its oxygen masks descend, the encouragement is, “Put on your mask before you help others.” Before Christians can try to save this perverse generation, they have to save themselves (Acts 2:40 KJV, ASV, ESV).
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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