A Pilgrim’s Path: Certainty in an Uncertain World

We often hear about the “end times” and the “last days” through the preaching and our own study of God’s Word. We read about escalating conflicts in regions far and near, the rising threat of terrorism, increasing frequency and destructiveness of natural disasters, droughts and floods, and emergent diseases     that   threaten   epidemics; these are but part of “the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8). We witness the increasing pervasiveness of immorality and idolatry in the world, and vicious attacks against the Church in the form of mockery, blasphemy, oppression or physical persecution. Even within the Church, we see the creeping influence of worldliness and materialism, the deception of false doctrines and the powerless, watered- down social gospel. Are we living in the end times? I think the answer is a clear and resounding “Yes”.

But, we may ask, “Surely these are not new to the Church of the past; how can we be sure these are manifestations of the end times?” Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, who were suffering   tremendous   persecution, that the “end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7); yet he reminded them that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Hence, our response should be, “How then do we as believers in the end times view and respond to the world around us?”

In this article, I hope to encourage us that though our way as pilgrims is wrought with difficulties and fears, we may be assured that both the journey and our end are in the hands of our Sovereign   God,   who   through   His Son has reserved for us an inheritance incorruptible that fades not away. The content of this article is drawn from 1 Peter, with a commentary written by Prof. Herman Hanko, aptly titled “A Pilgrim’s Manual,” as a valuable resource.

The Pilgrim’s Identity and Purpose

“A Pilgrim’s Manual” is indeed a very fitting title for 1 Peter. Peter himself states at the very beginning that he writes “to the strangers scattered throughout”. He goes on to describe the identity of the “stranger”, and briefly summarises in chapter one the difficulties faced (vs 6-7), the joy and glorious reward of the faithful pilgrim (vs 4-12), admonitions to be ready both individually (vs 13-16) and collectively as God’s people (vs 22), as well as the means of doing so (vs 23-25).

All these are written in the beautiful backdrop of the glorious inheritance the pilgrim has reserved in heaven, as a result of God’s great work of salvation through the resurrection of Christ from the dead (vs 3-5, 8-12, 17-21). Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, goes on to elaborate more about each in the succeeding chapters, providing the child of God with a treasure trove of instructions, warnings, and hope. What a rich blessing for the weary pilgrim!

The word “strangers” in 1 Peter 1:1   is   translated   from   the   Greek word parepidemois, made up of the prepositions para (alongside of ) and epi (at), and the word demos (a people, a state) (“A Pilgrim’s Manual” Hanko 2012, pp. 2-3 ). The same word is rendered “pilgrims” in 2:11. Being a pilgrim implies a temporal relationship, a dwelling with others while not being a part of them. By being born again, the child of God has a heavenly citizenship; he is not part of the world he journeys in. This means he speaks a different language, eats different food, and has different interests from the citizens of the world—spiritually! The spiritual meaning is evident, as in 1:2, the strangers are described as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. The foreknowledge of God is causative, meaning that they are pilgrims because they are elect. That means that we, as God’s elect, are spiritual pilgrims.

To what end, then, are we to be pilgrims? 1:7 sums it up: the refining fire of trials in a pilgrim’s life is to “be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ”! 2:5 describes us as “lively stones” in the spiritual house of which Christ is the chief corner stone, for the purpose of offering up “spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” Indeed the process and end-result of our pilgrimage is first and foremost to the praise and glory of God, made possible only through Christ! Let us bear this in mind as we continue to explore what a pilgrim’s life entails.

The Difficulties of a Pilgrim’s Sojourn

There is no doubt that the pilgrim’s life will be difficult. The assumption is laid out early in the first chapter in verses 6-7. After the opening doxology, Peter speaks about the pilgrims being “in heaviness through manifold temptations”, and “the trial of your faith…tried with fire.” He proceeds to give numerous examples in the following chapters. We may divide them into two main categories: temptations (internal), and persecutions (external).

Temptations are the result of the yearning of our old sinful nature within us for that which feeds it—sin! Though we may be regenerated, born again, such that we are freed from slavery to sin, there is a war within (Romans 7:22-23) that we will have to fight throughout this life. 1 Peter 1:14 warns us against “fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.” Lusts are desires contrary to the will of God. It is an apt description, as it conveys through “former” the idea that our lusts no longer have dominion over us, yet the warning is clear, as our weak flesh seeks after the pleasures of this world.

How often do we make decisions seeking wealth and power, or man’s approval? How often do we grumble about the difficulty of the callings God has placed us in? Do we seek our own pleasure on the Lord’s Day? 1:16 admonishes us “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

Persecutions are the result of living the life of a pilgrim. A pilgrim is different, and his conduct and way of life is noticed by those around him. He does not aim to accumulate earthly wealth, and refuses to participate in gossip or blasphemy. He avoids the revelry and drunkenness of weekend parties, and condemns the lavish lifestyle and promiscuity of wicked celebrities. People around scratch their heads and wonder. Some avoid them, while others quickly turn hostile.

Hostility is an expected response! 1 Peter 2:12 states, “they speak against you as evildoers”. There is no wrong in the pilgrim’s conduct, yet it offends because it points out and condemns the sins of the wicked through his conscience.           The pilgrim is falsely accused of many things when evil is spoken of him. In Peter’s day, he was accused of treason for serving Christ and not Caesar, and thrown to the lions. During the Reformation, this similar charge was levied. Even today, the pilgrim is accused of being narrow- minded, regressive, and bigoted. In 1 Peter 2, he speaks of suffering at the hand of magistrates and masters (employers). Indeed, the pilgrim can expect such.

We may ask, “Why do we need to suffer trials and persecutions?” First of all, they are a refining process whereby God sanctifies us (Isaiah 48:10, 1 Peter 1:7). That is something we are familiar with. But there is more to this! 1 Peter 2:21 explains, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps”. We are called to suffer! It is not just inevitable for a pilgrim to suffer by being different, but God has ordained it, and is pleased by it. That means suffering is a privilege and a reason for thanksgiving! No wonder 1 Peter 3:14 states, “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye”.

There is no wrong in the pilgrim’s conduct, yet it offends because it points out and condemns the sins of the wicked through his conscience.

Furthermore, we suffer because Christ has done so for us, leaving us an example. Christ’s suffering has atoned for our sins; His suffering is the spiritual power by which we can walk in His footsteps, as we are now dead to sins, and alive unto righteousness (2:24)! This gives the embattled pilgrim much hope indeed!

The Characteristics of a Pilgrim

After looking at the difficulties of a pilgrim’s sojourn, the question that might remain in our minds is “How?” We know that our end is certain and the victory is in Christ, but how do we face the myriad of trials and temptations before us, and the discouragements of succumbing to sin in the flesh? Peter exhorts the weary saints in Asia Minor with admonitions and encouragements. Let us briefly examine two major themes: firstly, to be sober (individual admonition), and secondly, to love one another (collective admonition).

The admonition to be sober is repeated in at least three instances in 1 Peter. 1:13 tells us to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end…” This is required in order to avoid fashioning ourselves according to “former lusts” (1:14), as we have examined in the previous section. This call is repeated in 4:7 “be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer”, as well as in 5:8.

Just like a drunkard loses the ability to control his faculties, a spiritual drunkard   is   one   who   reels   from pleasure to pleasure, unable to discern the true nature of things and repeatedly falling into former lusts, detailed in 4:3 as “lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banqueting, and abominable idolatries”. Sobriety is necessary for the pilgrim, as it is the spiritual state of heart and mind from which we discern all things in life in the light of God’s Word, and enables us to be watchful for the return of Christ. Let us take heed to this admonition!

Love for one another is also a major theme in the epistle. In 1:22, Peter states “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently”. The meaning here is that since our souls are sanctified (purified) in obedience to the truth, we can now love our brethren fervently and with a pure heart—that is the goal in this context. Note the pre-requisite is to be in a state of holiness! That means our thoughts, desires, choices and deeds must be holy, for only then can we love others instead of ourselves.

With this as a background, we examine what it means to love one another and why it is important for the pilgrim. Scripture is clear that love is the root of all other Christian virtues (Ephesians 4:2, 1 Corinthians 13). Peter reinforces this in 1 Peter 4:7-8. This comes in the context of completing his exhortation in chapters 2-4 regarding submission in our earthly relationships to magistrates, employers, in marriage and to one another, as well as practical implications of suffering with Christ. He then concludes “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” As pilgrims in the last days, above all things, we are to love one another fervently!

We love one another because we have first tasted the love of God for us. Love seeks the ultimate good of another— their salvation, as seen in God giving his Son for us. Love is compassionate, sympathetic, and humble (3:8). Love is forgiveness, hospitality, and ministering to one another (4:8-9). Love is bringing the Word of God to a fellow pilgrim in the midst of a trial. Though we sojourn as pilgrims, we are not alone; what a great encouragement fellow brothers and sisters of Christ can be to one another!

The Pilgrim’s Comfort

The thought of facing fiery trials is a daunting prospect for even the stoutest of heart. Were it left to the pilgrim’s own strength, there would certainly be no hope. But the pilgrim’s comfort is that both his journey and end are kept by the power of God. The end is secure because we are begotten unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, with an incorruptible inheritance reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-5). The journey is familiar because it is a path trod by Christ who has won the victory over sin and death—whose footprints we walk in, and who guides us by His Spirit each step of the way. May we rejoice with this knowledge that “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

 

Bibliography:

Hanko, Herman (2012). A Pilgrim’s Manual. Michigan, RFPA

Written by: Matthias Wee | Issue 38

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