First Letter of Peter|
Growing in Christ
Practical and Pastoral Observations on 1 Peter (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: written by Peter from Rome ("Babylon" 5:13) shortly before his martyrdom about 67 AD, to predominantly Gentile followers of Christ broadly scattered about the Roman Empire as those who didn't fit into the pagan and hostile society in which they, as "aliens, foreign residents, sojourners or exiles" (v.1), remained nevertheless called to be "salt and light" (Matt. 5:13-16) reflecting Christ in all circumstances. The first empire wide persecution of Christians, which Peter either anticipates or is witnessing, begin under Emperor Nero, who viewed himself as a god and was threatened by Christian allegiance to Jesus as Lord, in 64 AD.
1 Peter 1
Hope for citizens of heaven scattered in a hostile world: We are first and foremost citizens of heaven, citizens by virtue of Christ's purchase of us on the cross. As such we are already assured by God's grace an inheritance (v.4) set aside for us (Gk. perfect tense meaning fully completed and accomplished task) in heaven. Our inheritance exists always and can never be diminished by any evil or time.
The preposition makes clear our inheritance is already "into" (Gk: eis, v.4) us, i.e. already dwells in us, giving stability and hope while we live as expatriates (i.e. citizens of another kingdom) (v.1) in dispersion. Translators use various terms for this radically duel reality: "aliens, pilgrims, sojourners, exiles, foreign residents." In this vulnerable position we are protected, not from suffering or death, but from loss of our inheritance.
For this reason we rejoice (v.6,8) in the midst of our hardships - on God's mission for His glory - and conduct ourselves in the holiness of our true citizenship (v.15f) until Christ returns for His own.
The Word of God: What is stable in a chaotic world? We are sustained in the Word of God which is God's seed, as the seed of procreation, bringing about our new birth (v.23) and our sustaining food for the journey ("Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God" Matt. 4:4). Like heaven itself, the Word of God is imperishable, living and enduring (v.23-25).
Personal Application: When hurt by or just feel uncomfortable with the anti-Kingdom values of our world I will remember I am a pilgrim by looking at my shoes. And I will remember I am a citizen of heaven, on which my heart is set and where my inheritance awaits, by lifting my eyes to heaven.
My Prayer: Father, what joy and strength comes from heaven, from where You extend Your Kingdom, to we-who-are-expatriates, bought by Christ's blood and belonging to You, dispersed on the earth for your glory. Help us represent You well; holy, patient, joyful, eyes-turned-up, loving You.
v.3-4: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you."
A Tension for Citizens of Two Worlds: Peter continues to speak to citizens of the Kingdom of God as "aliens and strangers" (NASB) or "temporary residents and foreigners" (v.11, NLT) in the kingdom of man which denies or ignores God.
Christ as Cornerstone for those who live as strangers in the world: Jesus is the 'living stone' (v.4) which stands forever, though rejected by man (v.7) who stumble over Him (v.8). Christ is also 'cornerstone' (v.6) on which the Kingdom of God is built. [The word could also be 'capstone' (top-centre of the arch) which holds it together (Heb.1:3b).]
Respect for Human Faulty Institutions: Citizens of the Kingdom of God submit themselves to human institutions, not because human institutions are right or righteous but "for the Lord's sake" (v.13).
Suffering for Doing Right: If commanded by a human institution to do wrong and we refuse and then suffer for doing right (v.20) we should do so as Jesus did (v.21-25).
Rejection by the world is not to be equated with rejection by God: We may be rejected by the world or by specific people in the world, yet be accepted and loved by God (v.4). And vice versa: we could have celebrity status in the world while rejecting God. Only one thing is needful.
Following the Lord is to be wholehearted: we set aside 'all' sin (v.1, 11) and long, as a baby for milk, for all God's Word to grow into our 'full experience of salvation' (NLT).
Personal Application: I am a 'living stone' also (v.5), being built into a 'house' in which God dwells on the foundation which is Christ. I will act both as a free man in relation to the world and as a bond-slave in relation to God (v.16). Finally, 'Respect everyone, love your Christian brothers and sisters, fear God, honor the king' (v. 17).
My Prayer: Father, help me distinguish more clearly when I suffer for foolishness or self-will rather than for doing right.
1 Peter 3
Good in the face of evil: Usually no one will harm (v.13) someone doing good (vs. 1,8-9,11) and may even be won to Christ through holy behavior more powerful than words alone (v.1). Nevertheless wise words in defense of the hope of the Gospel are important as well (v.15). Even if we are harmed for setting apart Christ as Lord (v.14-15), it is better to suffer unjustly for good, as Christ did (v.17-18) than justly for evil.
Jesus' Victory in suffering: Jesus, suffering for us, saved us on the cross (by analogy as the ark saved Noah's family; v.20). After His ransom sacrifice purchasing the pardon of those who look to him, Jesus announced victory over Satan to those, now dead, who had foolishly served him (v.19).
Our Hope in Christ: We freely proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior and defend this claim and hope joyfully when asked to do so (v.15), e.g.:
Jesus Christ is my only hope in life and death. He has paid my ransom on the cross and pardoned my sin. Therefore Satan has no further claim on me. My hope and expectation is that I will be with Christ forever and be entirely free from Satan in the life to come. For this reason I set apart Christ as Lord and serve Him joyfully in this life and in the next.
Personal Applications: I honor my wife as equal partner in God's gift of new life with me (v.7). I will do good and serve freely all including those who don't yet set apart Christ as Lord. I will be prepared to share an account of the Christ-hope in me. I will remind Satan's angels that my Commander-in-Chief has defeated their commander-in-chief, as Christ did (v.19), especially when I'm harassed by dark spirits.
My Prayer: Father give me the righteousness of Christ to do good in all circumstances and to all people, also the grace to suffer nevertheless if need be for setting apart Christ as Lord and Savior.
1 Peter 4
Living ordinarily in extreme days: Though we may experience suffering and the end of all things draws nearer (v.7) we should not react in extreme ways but live ordinarily. We should keep our heads ("sane and sober" v.7) that we may pray wisely and powerfully, love fervently (v.8), be hospitable (v.8) and good stewards of our spiritual gifts to serve others (v.9-10. This is ordinary living.
Tested and Reviled: Though we may be tested (v.12) and reviled for Christ (v.14) we can rejoice in anticipation of the greater joy to come (v.13). Even if in suffering we die, we entrust our souls in absolute confidence to our faithful Creator. In these ways we live fully now with the end in view. God uses even suffering for good.
Personal Application: Disappointment and suffering helps me die to myself, my lusts, pride and flesh (v.2-4), and live instead for the will of God (v.2). I must not be concerned if others revile me (v.4, 13), provided it is not for sin but for my commitment to Christ. This is in fact to be expected since to follow Christ is to go counter to the flow of this world.
I will not view suffering or disappointment exclusively negatively, but look for opportunity to shift focus from my own will to the purposes and glory of God.
I will enjoy God's good gifts in this life and world but hold them lightly, ready at any time to give them up for His glory and the renewal of all things.
v.13: to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
My Prayer: Father how you work all things together for ultimate good, even my suffering and disappointment. Lord, bring ultimate victory over every expression of selfishness and evil I pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Extent of Opportunity: Much speculation has gone into v.6 (cf.3:19), specifically whether the dead are simply told of the victory of Christ or whether they have, in addition, some additional opportunity to respond. Since Heb. 9:27 and Jesus own teaching in Luke 16:19ff makes abundantly clear the opportunity to respond to Christ is limited to this life, it is unwise to delay responding now or to delay inviting others to do so.
1 Peter 5
Chapters in verses: in these closing verses are poured such rich words of instruction and encouragement as to fill many chapters. On the surface spoken to elders (vs.1-4) and young men (vs.5-11), the principles are universal and timeless:
all leadership must be provided as service to those served, freely and voluntarily, never to the gain of the one serving or overseeing (v.2-3);
mutual humility expresses grace in community and is rewarded by God (v.5-6);
sobriety and diligence is required to resist the devil who seeks to destroy us (v.8);
suffering is the broad experience of believers who in this accomplish something redemptive yet to be seen (v.9);
God will make perfect, complete, strengthen and establish us in His Kingdom (v.10) where He will rule wonderfully forever (v.11).
Strength through Suffering: God in these ways strengthens us in our battle against the evil one. To overcome, I will look continuously to Him who was victorious in life, ministry, the suffering of the cross for us, and in His resurrection victory over sin, death and evil. I will walk with confidence, even the path of spiritual warfare and suffering, knowing the victory is sure (v.10).
Personal Application: I will serve all I meet regardless of any formal responsibility towards them. I will be humble towards all. I will cast my cares on the Lord because He is good, gracious and able. I will not ignore or be preoccupied with the devil, but resist him on every occasion looking with confidence to Jesus alone. I will meditate on the eternal glory to come (vs.10-11).
My Prayer: Father, strengthen me to serve, overcome, and where that is the case, to suffer. Set my eyes in all on the Risen Christ.