April is L-Plate month, where I’ve turned over this website to my students. They are studying an introductory preaching subject this semester, and writing for this website is part of their assessment, as well as a learning exercise for them. I’m hoping you’ll interact with them a bit via the comments function at the bottom of each post, offering some feedback. (Particularly, feedback that’s constructive or affirming – they’ve got me to deliver the negative stuff! Remember, some of them will never have preached before, and some have English as their second language.) They will then incorporate this feedback in a sermon they present in class at the end of semester.
Over the next three weeks (including weekends – it’s a large class!) they’ll be taking us through the letters of 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude. We begin today with 1 Peter.
1 Peter 1:1-9 | Leo Mancheuk Kwan
According to statistics, more than 60% of Australians say they are Christian, but only 8% are regular church goers (who go to church at least once a month). When asked of their life’s priority, most Australians said that religion is the lowest in their priority list – much lower than relational, financial, emotion, vocational or social needs. It reminds us that we, as Christians, are in the minority when it comes to our society and its value system. Churches are like a group of people, gather together in their “world”, detached from the rest of the world – a bit like spiritual “ghettos”.
I have a Christian friend. He is new to Australia and try to settle in every aspect of his life, including church life. One day he was talking about his life and his work. He complained that he was being mistreated. He wondered if, as Christians, we should just remain timid and accept oppression from others, or should we fight back for our rights? Is the bible’s teaching not to repay anyone evil for evil one we must follow blindly?
I would say his question is not unique to him nor unique for modern day Christians. Peter in his letter to the churches in Asia Minor also addresses this question to his own audience. Let us open the word of God and see how the Apostle Peter address the issue – how in New Testament times, the people of God were living in a pagan world. And how God’s word encouraged his people in an oppressive and suffering situation to remain faithful.1:1-9 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:1-9 is often called the greeting and thanksgiving section.
In the greeting (v1-2), Peter used the common terms “grace and peace” and introduces himself as an apostle. These are also common and similar to Paul’s greetings. But Peter adds something special: Peter called them “God’s elect”, “exile” “scattered”; the term “exile” means “resident alien”.
Let’s give a little background of the recipients of the letter. They are churches around the northern part of modern-day Turkey. This means they lived among pagan world. If we read through the content of the letter (2:11-12), it becomes obviously that Peter purposefully use these terms to these churches by comparing them to “exiles of Israel” in a theological sense.
Think about their situation: they live in the midst of pagan world; not necessarily a life threatening situation, but in a hostile environment. They live in a world with a different worldview and value system. Their religious practice would be very different from the pagan religious practices.
Peter here defines their identity as the people of God – “elect” and by using the terms “exile” “scattered”, they were just temporarily here. They do not belong to this land, they were sojourners.
Peter immediate follows on with v3-5 talking about their salvation. These three verses are full of teaching: God’s mercy, the work of Christ in his death and resurrection, and new birth and new life through Holy Spirit. These are all fundamentals of salvation. However, Peter here is not giving a theology lecture. Peter here is more concerned for their well being, with a more pastoral focus. More significantly, Peter tells them their salvation is protected, is imperishable, it never spoils or fades; it is not subject to death, devil, or time consequence. Their salvation was described as like inheritance; kept in heaven under God’s powerful protection. The assurance is pointing to the last day: into eternity.
Peter draws our attention to the fact that we do not belong to this age, nor are we bound to this earthly life.
But then Peter leads us back to our present life in verse 6-8. He addressed the sufferings in v6-7 that are so real to us. He guides us to understand our sufferings and trials as being process of purification and sanctification. The process is “to achieve the genuineness of your faith”. He gives meaning to our earthly sufferings. He even compares our sufferings as partaking of Christ’s earthly sufferings (see 4:12-13); we rejoice as we participate in the the suffering of Christ. Peter gives meaning to suffering when we are in corrupted world. Peter sees suffering as trials to our lives, the purpose of which is purification: the perfection of our lives. God is the goldsmith, and our faith is refined and in order to become genuine. We have new life through new birth by the Holy Spirit. That life is not defied but rather refined. Our weaknesses are cleansed and removed from our new life, which will not perish. To Peter this is the process of sanctification in our lives.
In v8, Peter tells us that we rejoice. (This is different from Paul’s command in Phil 4:4 that we ought to rejoice. Peter, by contrast, uses the indicative mood to describe the people of God rejoicing. In Peter, we naturally rejoice; we are already in “rejoice default mode”, so to speak; inexpressible and glorious joy.) It is how we ought to be, isn’t it?
Here is the tension: Peter puts in front of us the earthly life that is our reality: facing suffering and trials. Peter also puts in front of us the earthly life that is rejoicing in its reality. But he remind us that we are under the assurance of salvation that we are yet to receive, but which is shielded by God’s power in the eternal future.
In fact, in v9, Peter brings us back to the salvation that we are receiving in future term as an end result. Peter neatly draws the conclusion in context that our coming salvation (v5) we are presently receiving (v9), which he expands on further later in the letter.
To think about
Should we not reflect on this passage that:
- We are sojourners; we are not at home in this world;
- We have assurance of the salvation which we are yet to receive;
- We rejoice in our earthly life which, in the process of suffering, leads us to salvation of our souls in the last day.
Do not see suffering and mistreatment by the corrupted world as meaningless and pointless; but see the end result of the salvation that we are receiving. As Peter says later, in 2:12 “live such a good life among them…that they may… glorify God on the day he visits us.”