Life in Microcosm - A Spiritual Syllogism. 1 Peter 1:15
Life in Microcosm1
– A Spiritual Syllogism
By John R. Wible
A “microcosm” is an epitome, a very small but thorough representation of a very large
thing that enables one, by observing the small and comparing with the large, to know
the large thing. Peter, in Chapter One of his first Epistle gives us life in microcosm as
he admonishes us, paraphrasing Leviticus 11:45,
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your
former ignorance. 15
But as the One who called you is holy, you also are
to be holy in all your conduct; 16
for it is written, Be holy, because I am
In 1 Peter 1:15, the word for "be" is genethete in the Greek. Grammatically, genethete
is an aorist imperative which means that it is a verb not of being but of becoming. It is
an imperative command, a thing that must be done; Not an “oughta” but a “gotta.”
Peter says that we must become “holy.” His microcosmic admonition raises at least
two questions, each of which raise further questions. First, what is “holy?” Second,
how do we become “holy?””
has been variously defined, but for our purposes, we define it as "set apart for
The implication is that God placed Christians here solely to serve or
to please God – easy to say, hard to do – well worth both the saying and the doing. It
is worth it because there is a hidden beautiful secret in this command. It is in this
service, and only in this service, that we find both our reason for existence and our
highest fulfillment in existence. If we lose ourselves becoming holy, we find ourselves
achieving the things that we most want, really want, in life. In becoming set apart for
God's service, we are related into but not co-mingled with the world. These
relationships, vertical and horizontal, are our true blessing, and we all want to be
blessed whether we will admit it or not.
Further, in becoming set apart for God's service, and only in so doing, we are able to
fulfill all the other commands of the Bible. In this one command, God, via Peter's pen,
has given us in microcosm, both the question of life and the answer to the question.
If that were so, what are Christians called to do specifically? The answer to that
question reveals itself in a myriad of ways for each individual person; but, generally
The scriptural passage is a brilliantly inspired microcosm. This paper, alas has become more cosmic
In the Hebrew, qadash, qaddish, or kadosh; Greek, hagios; Latin, sanctus.
Strong, James, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. (First published in 1890.)
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one can say that all Christians are called to do is to “love God and love man”4
all. No Law, no rules, no regulations; not even a list of do’s and don'ts. As Johnny
Bench would say in the paint commercial, “No runs, no drips, no errors.”
Hopefully, this point is sufficiently concise, but it begs the next question, “How are
we able to do this?” After one has beaten his head against a wall still trying to be holy,
the obvious answer becomes clear. C.S. Lewis observes that pain has a certain way of
We, in and of ourselves are not capable of “loving God and [actually
or even] loving man.” About all we are capable of loving is ourselves, and we need
help even doing that.
The last statement leads to yet another question, “From what source does our help
come?” The Psalmist says, "I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from
mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and
Pastor Timothy Keller tells us that looking to the mountains in Leviticus
was a reference to the Canaanite prophets building altars to the Baals on the hills and
then appealing to them as if they were real gods. The prophet, Elijah would ask them,
“So, how's this working out for you?"”
With what my daughter, Amy refers to as an “uncanny grasp of the obvious,” we post-
Enlightenment people, conclude that building altars to the Baals and appealing to
them for help is only a Paleolithic representation of man haplessly seeking to reach
God from the ground up rather than appropriating the true and only help that comes
from God, top-down. However, to our "enlightened" surprise, I submit that it is we,
not the Baal-worshippers who are "directionally challenged.” Faith and spirituality
aside, experience, history and a rudimentary knowledge of the nature of man informs
us that allowing God, not only to speak to us, but perhaps more importantly, to live in
us, which constitutes the ultimate “top-down” approach, is the only way to become
Be as it may all this philosophical truth, neatly wrapped, bowed, and ours for the
taking, another question is begged. “How do you actually do it?” In the answer is
some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that there is no formula. The
good news that there is no formula.
However, if we remember how Christians have done this over the millennia, we
cannot help but be led to the observation of the traditional spiritual disciplines,7
Matthew 22:37-40, paraphrased quoting the Shema, Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:4.
Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain.
Psalm 121:1,2. The Message.
Traditional or classical spiritual disciplines are variously enumerated and classified. One such list the
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internal and external. These internal include among others, prayer, meditation, and
Prayer, of course, includes what I have observed to be our first thought, though by no
means the totality, that being supplication, an asking for something related to our and
other people's needs.
Further though, it includes the recognition of our relative position viz. and relationship
to God, to our appreciation for all He does for us and to the acknowledgment of the
points at which we put our desires above those of God.
Woefully, a prayerful component, often missed is contemplation. Bishop N.T. Wright
quotes a great philosopher as saying that contemplation answers what prayer asks.
Prayer asks, "Who are You, God?" "Who am I and what do you want me to do?"
In contemplation, and in Bible study, God, through the Holy Spirit, gives us the
answer that He wants us to have. Jesus said, "Ask and you shall receive."8
as with all things valuable, the answer is frequently not cheap, easy, obvious, expected
or anything we want to hear. Perhaps that is why we don’t do it very often.
There is a time to think deeply philosophical thoughts. For people like me, that is the
fun of it. However, and frighteningly, I might add, “The time has come," the Walrus
said, "To talk of many things. . .”9
There comes a time to put aside philosophical
thought and in the words of Nike, to "Just do it." For me, that's the hard part. In the
end, though that is the most rewarding part, just doing it, fulfilling our purpose on
earth, loving God and loving man.
Love, it turns out, and contrary to popular culture’s teaching, is not a feeling but a
“doing.” It is a fancy with feet, a hypothesis with hands, a speculation with skin, and
a whim with wings. Once again, one turns to the traditional disciplines, now to the
external ones, the ones that involve doing something to, for, about, or with other
James tells us that true religion is looking after the needs of the widows, the
the poor, and as Bishop Wright observes, the quintessential post-modern
internal disciplines as meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, and solitude The external
disciplines in clued submission, service, confession guidance, celebration. Salvation Army, Spiritual
Life Development, http://www.sarmy.org.au/en/Ministry/Spiritual-Life-Development/Spiritual-
Disciplines/ accessed July 17, 2014.
Isaiah 30:19; Matthew 7:7,8; 21:22; Mark 11:24; Luke 11:29; John 14:13;15:7; and 16:23.
The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll.
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needy group, the "disadvantaged."11
"Love thy neighbor,"12
Jesus urges us, “He that is
he that is "disadvantaged;” Even, "Love your enemy."14
Did I leave out
anyone? If so, feel free to fill in the blanks. The Apostle James clarifies by saying to
us, "don't tell me you love me - show me.”15
Here's where the external and internal disciplines meet, where they mingle, in fact,
where they merge. We have all heard the saying, "Fake it ‘til you make it."16
even been applied spiritually. May I submit that is error. There is nothing fake about
it. "Faking it" is a bottom up approach that is as doomed to failure as Elijah's Baal-
worshipping friends. We can only do love as God enables us to so do.
The holy life is an upside-down life as compared with what people conceive of as life.
It is a top-down life. Perhaps, the converse is true. It just may be that it is the people
that have it wrong as compared with the holy life in not feeling it while at the same
time in doing it.
By now, my reader may accuse me of circular logic, but not so. God commands us to
become holy. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, He is the mechanism for our becoming holy
because as He commands us to “become” holy, He is holy.17
One becomes holy by becoming holy. How then, does one become holy? One
becomes holy in the same way a musician gets to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice,
The doing is the becoming and the becoming is the doing. Ultimately, the becoming
and the doing become the “being,” though that’s for another life when “faith shall be
That’s this life in microcosm.
Wright, N.T., Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters.(2011.)
Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31.
Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27.
This modern-day aphorism may have its Genesis in Aristotle's notion that ”acting virtuous will make
I Peter 1:15, thus closing the circle, see page 1, supra.
Spafford, Horatio, It is Well with my Soul, verse six.
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