Coffee with the King is back! (We’re still debating how long the coffee supply will last, but we’re back for now…)
For the next two weeks we’re going to read carefully through the whole first epistle of 1 Peter. We’ll try—as much as we’re able—to experience it as a coherent letter. (Ideally, we’d read it all in one sitting; or better, listen to it read out all at once, just like the original recipients would have experienced it. But given the format of our daily readings, we’ll do it over 10 days.)
And to help this letter speak for itself, we’ll give only the essential commentary to explain and apply, taking our lead from Ezra, who, along with his priestly entourage:
Nehemiah 8:8 …read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
We’re going to take this approach with 1 Peter; paraphrasing, explaining, and applying as we go. (The text of the Bible will be in blue, so you can tell which parts is the Bible, and which parts are my explanation.) So sit back—or better, lean forward in anticipation—as we take out this ancient letter and hear what it has to say to us.
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…
Well that’s a bit awkward, isn’t it. After all that build-up, it’s not actually addressed to us. I don’t think I have any Galatians or Cappadocians among my regular readers (although I did have four page views from Turkey last year, according to my web stats, so you never know…)
But, by and large, we’re not the audience Peter has written to: People living 2000 years ago in Roman provinces located in what’s called Turkey today.
But maybe we’re a bit like them?
After all, he calls them God’s elect, God’s chosen ones, his special people. That’s like us, right? Maybe it’s going to speak to us, too.
But then he calls them exiles. The Greek word means travelling strangers. People who haven’t settled in the country they’re living in. They’re just passing through, hoping one day to return to their homeland. And so they don’t fit in.
A little later in the letter he also calls them foreigners. The Greek word literally means those “outside the household.” These were immigrants. People who had permanently settled in the country, but were still treated as outsiders by those who were citizens. Again, people who don’t fit in.
And then he describes them as scattered. The word there—diaspora—is a term used for Jews who had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean by various invasions and wars, permanently living away from the Holy Land. So Peter may well be writing to Jewish Christians. Or, he might be using Jewish terminology to describe all of God’s people, scattered throughout the empire.
So let’s get this clear, as it’s the key to how we’re going to hear the letter when we read over the coming weeks: it’s addressed to a minority group, explicitly as a minority.
They are exiles, just passing through.
They are foreigners, excluded from citizenship.
They are scattered, away from their home. Some of them perhaps quite literally—particularly if they were Jewish Christians. But for many of them, they did belong where they lived. They weren’t foreigners. They hadn’t been scattered.
And yet—their decision to follow Christ had made them outcasts. Or at least, made them feel like they no longer fitted in with the wider society. They were subtly excluded. Publicly ridiculed. Out of step with the majority. These Christians found themselves very quickly marginalised. They weren’t at home any more in the Empire, because their true home was the kingdom of God.
Does that sound in any way familiar? How is that like our experience, as followers of Jesus in the twenty-first century?
That’s not a rhetorical question. Think about that during the course of today. Tomorrow, we’ll start to listen to Peter’s letter.