December 17th, 2021 - 1 Peter 1-5
1 Peter has the single focus of encouraging Christians to exhibit faithfulness under the pressure of persecution. The believers Peter wrote to were in the midst of fiery trials. The culture they lived in scorned their faith, criticized their morality, and mocked their hope. Peter called on the readers to respond to this pressure with a renewed commitment to live out the grace of God, both to please God and to bear witness to His grace. These Christians were in Asia Minor and it appears that they may have been Gentiles who had come to Christ and were therefore metaphorically strangers and aliens. Peter didn’t address some specific issue or crisis but offered counsel regarding the fundamentals of the Christian life. This letter is in effect a pamphlet on Christian living, written for the benefit of believers in many different places and circumstances. Here are some themes to watch for. First, the believers new identity. Peter’s goal was to encourage Christians during persecution. Because of God’s great mercy, believers have been given a new life, a living hope, and an eternal inheritance. They are now the people of God. As such they are to rejoice and be encouraged in the midst of suffering. Second, suffering for the good. Although believers may experience all kinds of trials they are to stand firm in the faith. Suffering acts as a purifying fire to prove the genuineness of faith. It also gives Christians an opportunity to give witness to their hope. When they suffer unjustly they are to follow Christ’s example. Third, Christian living. Christians are to live lives benefiting their conversion. Peter pictured salvation as a process into which believers grow from their daily faithfulness under pressure. They are to arrive for personal holiness out of reverent fear of God and to Display their faith by loving others.
Peter begins his letter reminding the people of the special status they have because of God’s gracious act on their behalf. They were living as foreigners or aliens because they had been uprooted from their homelands. Now they are living in a world dominated by anti Christian values and ways of life. The listed provinces were Roman controlled and in what is now modern day turkey. They are most likely listed in the order they were on the route the messenger carrying the letter would have followed.When God knows a person it means He has chosen that person and He chose to enter into a relationship with His people before they even knew Him. Verses 3-12 speak to the issues ofsalvation, trials, and hope. New birth is a way of describing Christian conversion and the language of inheritance frequently refers to what God has promised His people. Originally it applied to Israel and it meant the people of God and Hispresence with them. In the New Testament the inheritance is the spiritual benefit and eternal salvation God has promised to His people. This salvation typically refers to the final rescue from sin and death at the time of Christ’s return. This hope encourages believers to persevere to the end. It is hidden now but will be revealed in God’s time. In the meantime there will be trials to be endured. Faith, like gold, is purified as it is tested,but faith is much more valuable. A faithful Christian life brings praise, honor, and glory to God. Peter commends the believers because they have faith even though they have never seen Jesus. And the reward for that is the salvation of our souls. The Greek here refers to the whole person and not just some part of a person. Salvation affects all of us. Our salvation is incredible. The Old Testament prophets predicted it and angels want to investigate it. Much was revealed to the Old Testament prophetsabout the future but they didn’t know when or how the salvation they predicted would come about. The prophets knew that a Messiah would come and that He would be glorified, but they didn’t know who He would be. The angels were eagerly watching and waiting. The Greek word used here is a the same one used about the disciples when they peered into the empty tomb.
Peter moved on to a discussion about the call to holiness. New birth and the hope of salvation require that Christians live as God’s people, separating themselves from the values of the world and emulating the holiness of God, who redeemed them. Peter said they were to prepare their minds for action which is literally “gird the loins of your mind”. In the first century men had to tuck the hem of their long robes into their belts before they could work or run. Peter was worried the believers would fall back into their old ways and urged them to stand strong in their faith. Being holy because God is holy is a common refrain. Being holy meant being set apart, different than the world. We are still called to be holy…different and set apart from the world. Peter reminded the people that God doesn’t play favoritesand that we will be judged by a what we do, or don’t do. He also told all of us that our life here on earth is very temporary and that our real home is in heaven. We are temporary residents who are, or should be uncomfortable with the values of the world. God has paid a ransom for us. Ransoms are paid for the release of people held captive. We were held captive by our sins. Slaves in Peter’s day could sometimes pay a ransom and be released from their master. Some slaves actually did quite well for themselves. Some owned property and others had their own slaves! Christ’s death is the price God paid to release us from captivity. Peter went back to his Old Testament roots to explain. Christ was the sinless, spotless lamb of God, the perfect Passover sacrifice without sin or defect. With His coming, Old Testament promises of redemption were being fulfilled and the last days have begun.
Following his call for holiness, Peter specifies how believers must live in a loving way with fellow Christians. We literally must show one another brotherly love. We have been born again but not for life here. We have been born again for eternal life with Christ. We are like grass, here today and tossed into the fire tomorrow. The only thing that lasts forever is the word of the Lord, and Peter reminded the people that was what was preached to them. Believers who have been born again are to be like newborn babies in naturally and regularly craving pure spiritual milk. In other New Testament places milk, in contrast to solid food, refers to basic Christian teaching. This doesn’t necessarily mean Peter’s readers are new believers. It most likely refers to God’s Word in general. Tasting the Lords words is a direct reference to Psalm 34:8, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Verses 4-10 detail Peter’s thoughts and teaching on believers being God’s new people. All through his letter Peter reminded the people of their exalted spiritual status. Peter toldthe people that Christ is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. The cornerstone was the first stone placed, the most important stone. Christ was rejected by the people but God chose Him for great honor. And because the people believed in Christ they too are living stones. God’s people themselves make up the spiritual temple where God dwells. Jesus compared His body to a temple and the church is called the body of Christ. God no longer manifests Himself in a particular place but in the people who belong to Him and praise His goodness. And as God’s holy priests in the new covenant, Christians don’t offer animal sacrifices. Instead, they offer spiritual sacrifices. This means praising God, praying, and doing good works. Verses 6-8 contain three Old Testament quotes; Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14. Each of these verses identifies Christ as some kind of stone. He is the cornerstone on which the new temple is built. He is the cornerstone that God, despite people’s rejection, had elevated to be the keystone of His redemptive plan. He is the stone that causes people to stumble. People stumble because they don’t obey God’s word, and as a result they meet the fate that was planned for them. What isn’t clear is whether these people were appointed by God to unbelief or whether they were, because of their unbelief, appointed by God to suffer condemnation. Peter assures the believers that they are not like that because they are chosen people. In fact they are a royal priesthood, and God’s very own possession. Peter is using descriptions of the Israelites in the Old Testament and putting them on his primarily Gentile audience, indicating that they, like all Christians are truly God’s people in the new covenant era. Verses 11-12 are transitional; either the finale to the previous section or the intro to the next section. Peter again called the believers to live as the Lord would have them live, being faithful and obedient even in the face of persecution. Speaking about the day God judges the world, describes the day God will visit His enemies and judge them.
Living under authority was something every believer had to do; submitting to human authority. This means government authorities, the masters of slaves and wives respecting their husbands. In Peter’s day the king was the Roman emperor. Christians were suffering at the hands of the state and that would begin to escalate very soon under Nero. Peter reminded the people that it is God’s will that the people live honorable lives so that they silence those who level accusations against them. The believers are free, but enslaved to the Lord, and they are encouraged to respect everyone, even those who were mistreating them. Many slaves in the Roman Empire held responsible positions and had a decent income. But most were treated harshly and deprived of rights and status. Peter called on the slaves to both fear God and their masters punishment. This is often how Peter spoke about showing respectful attitudes as Christians. It quite possible that verses 21-25 are part of an early hymn or creed. For the Christians that were currently suffering Peter reminded them that Christ suffered as well. Christ is the role model for all Christians. He never sinned or deceived anyone. He didn’t retaliate…ever. He left vengeance to God. He bore our sins on Himself on the cross. That means we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. Peter is pointing to Isaiah 53 in these verses. We are healed by His wounds. And, we were once like sheep who have wandered every which way. But now we have turned to the Good Shepherd.
Chapter three begins with three exhortations concerning authority. We have heard them before from Paul. Submission in the ancient world took the form of obedience. Women are to accept the authority of their husbands, knowing if their husbands are not believers their Christian lifestyle may just turn theirhusbands to the Lord. Husbands are to be loving and respectful of their wives. Without using any words Peter called Christian wives to evangelize their pagan husbands through their behavior. Peter also instructed the women to not be concerned about the trappings on the outside; clothes and jewelry. Instead, they are called to let their inner beauty, given them by Christ shine through. Peter asked the women to show off their gentle and quiet spirits. It seems that Christian wives married to non believers where frequently pressured to abandon their Christian principles and values. Peter encouraged them to continue doing what is right. Women had less physical strength and often little to no social status on their own. That is most likely the weakness that Peter is speaking of. That means the husband has the duty of protecting his wife. And if the husband doesn’t honor his wife it will hinder his prayers being answered. Peter also called all believers to respond to others, believers and non believers, with love.
By blessing others we receive a blessing from God. Again Peter quoted the Old Testament, this time Psalm 34:12-16. Here he is focused on curbing the sins of speech, resisting evil, and doing good. This also highlights the promise of blessing for obedience. Peter spent some time addressing what it means to suffer for doing good. Generally speaking no one will want to harm someone who is doing good but sometimes Christians still suffer even when they do good. Believers are not to be afraid of the threats from others; only fearing the Lord. By fearing Christ they will be free from fear of their human persecutors. It is much better to suffer for doing what good than suffering for doing what is wrong and angering God. The unique work of Christ onour behalf reminds those who suffer that they have a secure foundation for hope and confidence. Jesus literally suffered for our sins once and for all times. Verses 19-20 are difficult. There are three distinct interpretations here. The first holds that these verses refer to the spirits of people who have died and Christ, after His resurrection, preached the Good News to these spirits. However, the idea that people might hear the Good News and respond after their deaths is found no where else in scripture and this meaning of spirits is not the most likely. A second interpretation sees these verses as Christ’s preaching through Noah to people who are now spirits in prison. This does not fit well with both verses and isn’t the most appropriate answer either. In the third interpretation the spirits in prison are evil spiritual beings. Jewish tradition based in Genesis 6:1-3 held that many angels fell in the time of Noah. Peter’s point would then be that Christ proclaimed His victory over the evil spiritual powers after His resurrection. The eight people are Noah, his wife and their three sons and their wives.
Peter’s picture of baptism may mean that as the water floated the ark in which Noah and his family were saved, so baptism saves believers. To Peter might mean that as Noah and his family passed through the water to safety so too Christians pass through the waters of baptism to salvation. Finally, Peter might mean that as the water judged sin in Noah’s day, so the water of baptism washes away the sins of Christians. But Peter does not mean that water baptism saves a person regardless of that persons heart. He added that baptism saves only as a response to God from a clean conscience, making it clear that only people exercising faith towards God will benefit from baptism. In the ancient world spiritual beings were widely believed to directly affect the course of affairs in earth. Christians needed to be reminded of that. Christ had already won His victory over these spiritual powers. It means that we don’t need to fear even the spiritual realm.
Peter urged Christians to decisively turn their backs on their former sinful ways that Christ’s suffering delivered us from. In 3:18 Peter introduced the idea of Christ’s physical suffering and now he is pointing to that as the attitude we are called to imitate. Our suffering with Christ shows that we have identified with Him. Those who do identify with Him will experience the victory over the power of sin that He won on the cross. Like Paul, Peter had a couple of lists too. This list is of the things godless people do: immorality, lust, feasting and drunkenness, wild parties, and worship of idols. Being godless is another Old Testament term that Peter used. Everybody will have to face God who judges the living and the dead. In verse six Peter referred to people now dead who were exposed to the GoodNews while they were alive. He does not envision a chance to repent after death. If they responded to faith in life they can be confident that, although they were destined to die like all people they will live forever with God in the Spirit. Peter followed this with a collection of miscellaneous exhortations.
Peter taught that the end of the world was coming soon and that the last days predicted by the prophets had begun. The next event in salvation history is the second coming of Jesus Christ which will bring to an end the world as we know it. This end could come at any time so Christians must always be ready. By its nature, love overlooks sins committed against us by others.Peter might also mean here that our attitude of love, because it displays our relationship with Christ, covers our own sins and causes them to be forgiven. God has given His people a great variety of spiritual gifts and Peter called us to use them well. Believers are like managers. They have been entrusted by God, their master, with gifts to be used to glorify a him. Verse 11 is a doxology. This has led many to believe the original letter ended here and another was addd to it. Doxologies are typically at the end of letters but occasionally they do appear at the end of a section. Here Peter instructed believers one last time about the way to face the trials that will inevitably come. He reminded them not to be surprised when the trials came, especially to those seeking to lead godly lives. They can expect to face the hostilities of a sinful world. He reminded them that they literally will be blessed when they are reproached. This reflects Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:11-12. But they were not to suffer for breaking laws; things such as murder, stealing, making trouble or prying into another’s affairs. There is no shame in suffering for being a Christian. Instead it is cause for praise and rejoicing. There is some fragmentary evidence that suggests the original label of Christian was a convenient way of summarizing the alleged superstitious practices and immoral character attributed to Jesus’ followers. God’s judgement is often pictured as beginning with God’s household, that is His own people, as a means of purifying them.
Peter ends this letter with final exhortations to elders, to younger people, and to the church as a whole. These exhortations are followed by final greetings and a closing. Elders were the spiritual leaders of the early churches. By calling himself a fellow elder, Peter identified with them in their responsibilities and with the charge that he gave them. Our word pastor comes from New Testament imagery of a shepherd pasturing his flock. Again we have Jesus the Good Shepherd as our role model. Those who are younger stand in contrast to the elders. This might refer to a specific class of ministers or maybe elders in training or those who assist the elders in various ways. But probably it just denotes the younger individuals in the church. All are called to express themselves in humility. Peter called the believers to be on guard because the evil one is always lurking, waiting for a chance to try to tear them away from the Lord. Even today the evil one lurks, crouching at the door. Peter calls each of us to turn over all of our cares to the Lord. He has called us to let Him carry our burdens because He cares for us.
Peter also reminds all of us that we are joined to believers all over the world who suffer in one way, shape, or form because of their faith. In Peter’s day believers almost everywhere were persecuted to one degree or another. It happened every place the Good News was preached. This is intended to encourage believers and console them. Peter remained believers that sufferings on this earth last only for a little while compared to what awaits us in eternity. Sometimes the suffering seems endless but in fact it is only momentary. It appears that Silas was the one who wrote Peter’s words in this letter. This is the same Silas who was a companion of Paul’s. We don’t know how Silas ended up in Rome with Peter but he may have traveled with or followed Paul. The reference to Babylon was probably symbolic for Rome. Like Rome, Babylon was a great city, the capital of an empire. Babylon had held sway over much of the ancient Near East in the 500’s BC. As a great city and the capital of the empire that burned Jerusalem and took many captive Israelites back to the city, Babylon was regarded as the power center of a world hostile to God’s people. For this reason the Book of Revelation uses Babylon as a metaphor or code word for Rome. Peter probably used the title in the same way. The Mark mentioned here is John Mark, another co-worker of Paul’s. This is Mark who wrote the gospel of the same name, which is generally thought to be based in Peter’s teachings. Peter ended by urging the believers to greet one another with the kiss of love.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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