Lord, You have given us far more than we could ever have dared to ask. Nevertheless, we boldly ask for one thing more: give us the strength and determination to say Thank You with our lives. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:13
In our journey through First Peter, we have, up to this point, been enjoying a spectacular vista of the breath-taking salvation of God — a grace so mind-bogglingly amazing that it escaped the comprehension of the great prophets of old and befuddles even the holy angels of Heaven. But now we are about to turn the page, so to speak. Because it is in this verse that Peter wields his first command. In fact, we find here the first in a long chain of imperatives that essentially fill the rest of the letter. In a manner similar to Paul’s letters, Peter is now transitioning from doxology into duty; from praise songs to practicality; from worship to warfare.
So do me a favor right now: open up your Bible and turn to 1 Peter chapter 1. A paper Bible preferably — one that you can write in. I want you to take out a pencil or pen and boldly draw a circle around the first word in verse 13.
You know what they say: whenever you find a “therefore” in Scripture, you’re always supposed to stop and ask what it’s…. purpose in life is.
Seriously though, it really is a critical word, and I want you to ponder it for a moment. Remember, up until now, Peter has simply been revelling in the grace of God. Those of you who have been studying with us up till now will recall that the first twelve verses of this book constituted one long, extraordinary sentence celebrating the extravagant and inexplicable grace and mercy of God multiplied to His honored children. It is precisely at this point that Peter says “Therefore…”, and then launches into the commands.
It is so important that you never forget this principle: The commands of God always come AFTER a “therefore”. Think about the significance of that: God does not march up to you, point a finger in your face and say, “Be good!” When He comes to us, He always points His finger at Himself and says “I AM good… and good to YOU. Therefore… be good!” We could never attain the second, except for the gracious gift of the first. Please hold this close to your heart. Our behavior — our conduct in this life — is never to win His favor. Our lives are simply meant to be one long Thank-You note for His love.
So what should that thank-you note look like? This passage has one specific instruction (and a couple implied instructions) in that regard. By that I mean, there is one explicit imperative (i.e., command) in this verse, and two other phrases that sound like commands in English, but aren’t quite.
The single imperative is found at the end of the verse, so let’s start there. Read it again: “set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Oh, this is such a powerful word. Entire sermons, entire books have been written about this topic. It’s not the first time we’ve read this word in Peter’s letter, and it won’t be the last. But the important thing to note here is that, while Peter often refers to hope as a wonderful gift that we have received, here it is an action that he commands us to engage in. In short, he is saying, You’ve been given hope, therefore live in hope!
I have been reading lately the biography of Brother Yun, the “Heavenly Man”. He is a Christian from China who suffered incomprehensible torture and persecution for his faith at the hands of the Chinese police. Again and again he yearned to die, and he prayed that God would release Him from this life and from his agony. But each time, God would instead give him something else: a verse from Scripture or a vision of his future restoration with Christ. And in that moment he would be transported into a place of peace, and comfort,… and hope. He survived only on HOPE.
When Peter wrote these words, he knew merciless persecution was on the horizon for himself and his readers. And he knew that there would be only one way they could survive it: by pinning their hope on what lies ahead: the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ, who is coming to lavish upon us unimaginable grace. In the same way that Peter’s colleague, the Apostle Paul, reframed the world when he penned the words, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated,” so here, Peter radically alters the perspective of our very existence by saying, essentially, “Set your hope on things ahead, where Christ returns.”
But please understand, Peter is calling us here to something far deeper than wishful thinking. He didn’t just command us to “hope”. He adds another word to modify this command that raises the intensity to a whole new level. It is the word “fully” (sometimes translated “completely” or “entirely”). “Set your hope FULLY on the return of Christ.” What exactly is he saying? If I were going to write a book on this verse and give it a catchy title that encapsulates what I believe this command is all about, it would be this: “MAKING BANK: The Lie of Diversification: Investing Everything in the One Sure Payoff.”
This last summer, my college-aged son introduced himself to the world of financial investing. Instead of saving his hard-earned wages in the bank, he put the money into stocks. As a well-advised investor, he made sure to diversify — dividing his capital into a variety of different companies and ventures. Some of those investments didn’t do very well for him, but a few really “blew up” and gave him a return of over 100% on his original seed money. Now imagine he was an even savvier investor: what if he would have known in advance exactly which stocks were going to be so bullish. If he had that kind of foreknowledge, he would have been incredibly foolish not to throw everything he had into that one basket. But, because he knew his powers of prognostication were limited, he prudently “hedged his bets.”
Here in this verse, Peter wants to turn things upside down. He is urging us to invest our lives with an entirely different strategy than we invest our 401Ks. He says, “Gang, listen: on that day when we finally see Jesus and experience the tsunami of grace that will wash over us, I guarantee you that every action you have every done, every thought, every decision, every word that came from your mouth in this life that wasn’t motivated by the love of God and dedicated to His glory and His kingdom… every one of them will feel like an absolute WASTE!” We will look back over our lives and feel so foolish that we hadn’t bet everything on the grace and glory of the returning Christ.
What is so tragic is how many of us live as if Heaven wasn’t a sure bet. We diversify our hope. We hedge our bets. We hope in Christ, sure… but we also hope in the pleasures of entertainment, or in the payoff of a career, or in the promises of retirement. I’m not saying that any of those things are inherently evil or worthless. Just don’t pin your hope on the ability of any of them to provide lasting fulfillment. Fix your eyes further down the road. I challenge you to ask yourself: how different would your life be if you were utterly convinced that the Lord Jesus was going to repay you a thousand times over for every act of love and service that you did in His name? What would it look like if you were to invest your hope fully, entirely, unreservedly in the One Sure Payoff: the grace that will overflow to your account when the Savior reviews your life and says “Well done, faithful servant!”
So, with that challenge in mind, we turn now to the other two phrases in this verse. As I mentioned earlier, although there is only one imperative verb in this verse, Peter uses two other phrases to “decorate” it, so to speak. Technically, they are called “subordinate participial clauses” (don’t worry; that won’t be on the test); the point is: they extend the main command and fill out its meaning. These two images are strikingly vivid portrayals of what a life of confident hope should look like. So return now to the beginning of this verse and let’s unpack them together.
The verse starts with the phrase, “Prepare your minds for action.” The first thing to notice about this instruction is that it reveals that the principal arena of spiritual battle is in the mind. Spiritual victory in your life is entirely dependent on what you think, and (more importantly) what you believe. This principle is echoed in the next verse (which we will study next week), where we read about the lusts that defined us “when we lived in ignorance” (v. 14). It is truth that sets us free. It is the truth which you cling to in your mind that will determine the outcome of your spiritual efforts. I have heard it said that the only power that the devil has is the power of deception. His goal is to fill your mind with lies, because if he is successful at that, he will utterly defeat you. That is why it is so critical that we guard our minds by filling them with unassailable TRUTH.
But there is more to this command than meets the eye, because, when Peter first described this principle, he used a phrase that would have been extremely poignant to his readers, but is lost somewhat in modern translations. Translated literally, his words read, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” (Now there’s a figure of speech we don’t use every day!) To his first century audience, the significance of this statement would have been perfectly clear. Because, in those days, everyone wore tunics and robes. This was actually quite comfortable, I’m told, but it came with a distinct problem: it’s very difficult to run, fight or work hard with a flowing garment around your legs. They had, however, a very practical solution to this issue: girding up their loins. The process looked like this: bending over, they would reach down and grab the hem of their tunic, pulling it between their legs; then they would hoist the fabric up around their thighs, pulling it tight and tucking it into their belt. Thus girded, they were set for battle or any other strenuous labor for which they needed mobility. In this way, the phrase itself became an idiom which meant “prepare for battle.”
The phrase was used both literally and metaphorically in the Old Testament: Elijah girded up his loins just before outrunning a chariot in a 17 mile footrace (1 Ki 18:46). The Israelites may have done something similar when they fled Egypt (Ex 12:11). But my favorite use of this term comes in the book of Job. After patiently listening to all of Job’s complaints and protests, God shows up in the climactic finale. Speaking out of a whirlwind, the Lord confronts Job fearsomely: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man! I shall question you, and you shall answer!” (Job 38:2-3). I take this as God’s way of saying, “MAN UP, DUDE!” (or should that be, “GIRD UP!”). The Lord challenges Jeremiah in the same way when He first assigns him to the prophetic ministry (Jer 2:17). The idea in both passages is essentially the same: A battle is coming, so suit up and get ready to rumble!
If you have ever seen any movies about D-day, when the allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, I’m sure you have a vivid picture in your mind of what those young soldiers looked like when their landing vehicles approached the coast. Their minds were steeled, their eyes were set, their thoughts were fully focused on the combat they were about to encounter. I believe that is exactly what Peter had in mind when he penciled out this battle plan. He knew of the demonic forces that were about to be unleashed on the world, he knew the onslaught would be vicious, he knew his dear friends were in for a ferocious fight. And he wanted them to be ready! Men and women, the war we are facing is no less savage, and no less diabolical. It is absolutely essential that you and I are ready to fight for our King. It is absolutely essential that we learn to “gird up the loins of our minds”.
Imagine what your mentality would be like if you knew that your home was surrounded by a warzone with enemy snipers training their sights on your front door, just waiting for you to step outside. Well, I’m here to tell you that is exactly what your circumstances really are. Your brain is a target for the enemy. He knows you represent danger to his ambitions, and he will stop at nothing to neutralize you as a threat. And how exactly does he do that? Well, one of his schemes becomes apparent when you think of the opposite of this command: If Peter is admonishing us to prepare our minds for battle, it follows that the enemy’s strategy is to get your minds off of the battle. In a word: Distraction. One of his primary strategies is to get you thinking about anything else but the battle. It doesn’t have to be “sinful”; it might even be “good” — but if it distracts you from the real war, then he has effectively neutralized you.
So the first step in setting our hopes fully on the grace to be revealed by our soon-returning Savior is to think about it. To intently meditate on the implications of what total investment looks like, and then to live accordingly. In other words, we need to disentangle ourselves from everything that could divert us, or slow us down, or trip us up. We need to identify any preoccupations in our lives that distract us from the battle at hand. Our minds need to be prepared for battle. So my friends, Gird Up!
There is one more metaphor that Peter uses to express what a life of total investment looks like. This one is less likely to get lost in translation. It’s very straight-forward, actually. Just two words: “Keep sober.” However, like the previous phrase, this term can be used both literally and metaphorically. Taken in a literal sense, Peter would be forbidding us from getting drunk. And that, indeed, is a true concern of his, as he makes clear later in his letter (in 4:3). However, in this verse it is more likely that he is using the term figuratively. In fact, this is a metaphor he employs several times in his book. In 4:7 he implores us to “be clear-minded and sober for the purpose of prayer.” And then, near the end of the letter, he warns us, “Be sober and alert, because your enemy is prowling around like a lion” (5:8). (And if the thought of a hungry lion at your back doesn’t sober you up, I don’t know what will.)
Both of those verses provide an indication of how we should interpret this figure of speech in the current context. In all three references, the term is paired with another word that refers to clarity of mind or alertness. Here’s the point: intoxication dulls your mind; it clouds your judgement with a false sense of well-being, and prevents you from making rational decisions. But Peter’s concern is not limited to alcohol and narcotics. The context makes it clear that anything which intoxicates my mind or spirit is dangerous to me, so self-control is paramount.
In our modern culture, there are so many forces and sources of mind-numbing intoxication, it would be impossible to list them all. But I want to challenge you to scrutinize your own personal life and evaluate the diversions that you are naturally drawn to: Do they have the tendency to disrupt and distort the focus of your spiritual fervor? Let me give you an example: entertainment. We all have different forms of entertainment that appeal to us. And I don’t intend to prescribe or categorize which forms are godly or healthy for your soul and which ones aren’t. Instead, I simply offer this rubric to help you make that distinction for yourself: Is this pastime likely to sharpen my spiritual focus, or dull it? There is nothing wrong with recreation or with participating in activities that refresh our mind and spirit. But there is a difference between relaxation and intoxication. One rejuvenates us, sharpens us, gets us ready for the next campaign. The other simply masks our wounds temporarily, degrades our ability to think, and leaves us feeling worse than we did before. In the battlefield, the soldier cannot afford to allow his mind to become impaired in any way. Too much is at stake, and the risk is too high. So, I join with Peter to entreat you: evaluate your diversions judiciously, to ensure that they KEEP YOU SOBER.
So, there you have verse 13 in a nutshell: Gird up, keep sober, bet everything on Jesus. Problem is, when it all comes down to it, this sounds like a very difficult life, doesn’t it? Girded loins, meticulous sobriety, absolute reliance on an unseen future. Is it all really worth it? I’d say that is a fair question. I wonder what answer we would get if we were able to ask the apostle Peter himself. Of course we can’t know for sure, but I would have to imagine that his response might go something like this:
“Worth it? I doubted it once myself. It was a little girl who called me out. She asked me if I was with him — if I stood by the criminal. I buckled. I was caught ungirded — my mind clouded in a drunken stupor. I decided the risk was too great. So I denied my best friend…. The darkness of the subsequent days shattered me. But the next thing I knew, my risen Lord had his hand on my shoulder and was inviting me to a breakfast of roasted fish (my favorite!). It was in that moment that I knew: I would never doubt him again. And I haven’t. My friend, I can tell you with absolute certainty: you can risk everything on Jesus. EVERYTHING. And I guarantee you, on my life: if you do, you will not regret it.”