We cannot fully understand today’s verse without understanding its context. The five verses that precede today’s verse give it its power and help to reveal its truth. It is a good example of how important it is not to take any verse of scripture out of its context. Peter gives us three examples from the Old Testament of God’s actions toward the righteous, and the unrighteous. Those who are ungodly meet their right and just ends. Those who are godly he rescues from the midst of the ungodly.
The first example Peter uses is that of the fall of the rebellious angels. The great English Poet, John Milton, in the first book of his epic poem, Paradise Lost, gives us a powerful poetic description of the rebellion of the archangel, Lucifer, and his cohorts, and their great and terrible fall into the abyss. In it we see the fallen Lucifer, now called, Satan, rising up off the the surface of a fiery lake, a place far removed from the glory they had known in heaven. He is full of titanic pride, rage and envy. His pride reveals nothing less than his foolishness, for finally he says, “To reign is worth ambition, though in hell: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.” (Book One, lines 262 and 263) He is the spiritual example of the phrase, “Pride goeth before the fall.” Though the angels had been made immortal, God did not spare them from the consequences of their ungodly actions.
The second example is that of the Flood. As we are told in scripture, the people of Noah’s time had fallen into all manner of corruption. Every kind of sinful, ungodly behavior had overwhelmed the world; prideful arrogance, greed,lust and gluttony, slothfulness, anger, and jealousy. Only Noah remained righteous and, as a result, God protected him, “a preacher of righteousness, and seven others.” (verse 5)
The third example is Sodom and Gomorrah, those cities that had rotted from the inside out because of the sins of the flesh. As Peter says, “If he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.” (verses 7-9)
While our own world looks and sounds an awful lot like these examples from the Old Testament, the message is clear. As Christians, we are to be examples of godliness in the world today. We must be Christian in all that we think, say, and do. That is, we must always try to imitate Christ as best we can, aided by his grace. If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to say, “Sometimes I am, but not always.” It is the “but not always” part that we must address before God, now, or on the day of judgment. But the truth of this passage from Second Peter is that God will not abandon us if we are trying, for he knows our hearts. It is never easy, but he will remain faithful to us in our desire to follow him more clearly every day. He will rescue us from our trials.
Lord, help us to remain godly and righteous, true to your just, life-affirming commandments. Give us the ability to discriminate rightly between true and false, good and evil, in all things so that we may never be lured away from you by the siren calls of unrighteous temptation, or the false happiness of immediate gratification. We wish to turn our wills to you alone. Quicken our hearts with your love and give us the graces we need to remain faithful to your ways. We pray in Jesus name. Amen!
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