First Letter of Peter

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We know plenty about the man Peter. His name comes from the word for rock, he was a fisherman on Galilee, he was living in Capernaum at the beginning of his discipleship, he was married, leader of the apostles, and the first to recognise Jesus as the Christ. However he tended to be somewhat boisterous, and rather outspoken, he was the one who wielded the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, and famously denied Christ three times.

What we have here in this letter though is a wonderful record of how he had developed and grown in the ways of Christ and much of his first letter speaks of attitude of mind, how we should conduct ourselves, particularly in the face of adversity. It seems as though this letter was written around AD63-64 shortly before the impending persecution of AD70, and perhaps this political background was influential to his choice of topic for he talks about the sanctification by the blood of Christ being behind the process of salvation, the growth we should go through, building together upon the foundation stone that is Christ. Submitting ourselves to others not only through trials but also through love for others, but he very much dwells upon the idea of suffering for Christ. His message is one that is very much in harmony with the other gospel writers.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1Pe 1:1-2)

Peter opens his letter, directing it to those who have been dispersed from their home lands, already thinking on those who are suffering for Christ. He outlines from the off, the key process behind salvation, the obedience to Christ, submission to the Word of God, and the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. It is through the mercy of God he tells us, that we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Christ, or as the AV says, a lively hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1Pe 1:3)

Peter is very persistent about this born (or begotten) again idea, using it again in v23,

since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1Pe 1:23)

The word of God is responsible for our being born again, and it’s what helps that incorruptible seed to grow into salvation, and you can draw parallels with the parable of the sower here if you wish. Peter’s theme is very much that of helping his fellow believers to grow together, but he wants to make sure that they are all working from the same plan. Calling us to obedience he understands that it won’t be straightforward, yet at the same time it will be the trials that we face which will shape us, and refine us.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Pe 1:6-7)

It was through Peter’s trials that he was strengthened and in turn he was then able to strengthen others during their trials, teaching us that God’s strength is sufficient to cope with all things that might come our way.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Co 12:9-10)

However becoming a Christian doesn’t magically make all problems disappear, we are looking to the future, and Peter fills his message with the common triplet that we see in the New Testament letter, a living hope (v3), a faith that is tested (v7) and a love that we should show to God and others (v8). Through these we will rejoice when we obtain the outcome of our faith (v9).

Initially Peter, along with the other disciples didn’t understand the significance of the sacrifice that Jesus made, it wasn’t until after his resurrection, and a little hindsight that he understood what he had just witnessed and shows his understanding by drawing on the event of the Exodus.

V2 we saw the sprinkled blood of Christ, v13, he exhorts us to prepare our minds for action, the Greek there being gird up the loins of your mind, taking us to the time when Israel were preparing to leave Egypt behind, 2:5, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices, 2:9, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, called out of darkness, 2:11, sojourners and exiles. All very much in parallel with the wilderness journey made by the nation of Israel and can be compared with our ecclesia in the wilderness, though now living under the new covenant.

1:13, gird up the loins of your mind, translated here as prepare your minds for action, and be sober-minded. It is so important that our minds are tuned to God, that they are under control mentally, and not conformed to the world. We are called to be holy, and Peter exhorts us to grow in the Lord.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation– if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1Pe 2:1-3)

We should be desiring the word of God like the new born child desire the milk from its mother. When a baby is hungry, it lets you know, they are determined to be fed and nothing else is important to them at that moment. We need to have that same hunger for the Word of God, for we need that spiritual milk to help the seed within us grow into salvation.

Peter continues with the idea of a living stone, drawn from the prophecy of Isaiah 28. Obviously we are talking about the Lord Jesus Christ here as the chief cornerstone, the stone on which all other stones are measured against and upon which the spiritual house will be built. This is the foundation on which Christ’s followers will build and we can extend that to the idea that the body is a living temple mentioned in 1 Cor 6:19, which we need to keep holy so that God can dwell in us.

Peter is telling us to build on the pattern laid down for us by Christ. Like Moses was given exact plans for the tabernacle, we have been given a pattern for our lives so that that God can dwell with us and in us. In the New Testament this temple consists of people, the scriptures providing the blueprint for the building, Jesus being the foundation. As part of that building we have to be shaped and have a responsibility to hold onto the foundations laid down and grow together, suffer together while we wait in living hope for the salvation to come. This is the theme that Peter continues with as he exhorts us in our attitudes towards submission, suffering and loving one another.

Peter tells us in 2:13 to be subject to all the authorities, that means being law-abiding, and not full of pride and contentious. He recognises from his own failures earlier in life that we have to be patient, we have to be quiet and in doing so we might put the foolish people to shame and silence them. Not only should we be subject to authorities, but also to our masters. V16, our freedom should be used in service to God, not for ourselves. V18, We no longer have a servant system, but we can still apply these values to our employers, working hard for them and not grumbling. It is by our very conduct that we act as a witness to Christ, who was submissive to the end.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1Pe 2:23)

Peter likewise in chapter 3 talks about subjection to husbands. If the wives are acting submissively, purely and respectfully then even if the husband isn’t responding to the Word of God, then he may be persuaded by the conduct of their wives. There is a wider application here for us, outside of marriage and within the ecclesia. This can be simply summed up as, lead by example.

Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– (1Pe 3:3)

Not at outwardly show, but meekly and quietly.

but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1Pe 3:4)

This is very much in the spirit of Moses, accepting your lot without resisting, leading from the front, but through example, not trying to dominate or order people around. We have to demonstrate a harmony by submitting together in service to the Lord.

Now in 3:8 Peter goes on to list five characteristics that should be found in abundance within us.

One mind – having a similar mentality to each other, that is being shaped by God’s word. Sympathy or compassion, Grk sumpathes – having a fellow feeling, being sympathetic to others troubles

Brotherly love – Grk. Philadelphos, love of brethren (and sisters too!), what we might call fraternal love. How can we love others if we don’t have anything to do with them? We grow in love through contact, welfare and supporting each other.

Pitiful or tender heart – this is being sensitive to the needs of others.

Courteous or humble mind – having a friendly attitude, taking a lowly status, being thoughtful to others around you, giving way.

So these characteristics are very similar to each other in their nature, and if we have these then we won’t be doing the things in v9.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1Pe 3:9)

So don’t repay evil with evil, instead you will receive a blessing.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, (1Pe 3:14)

Our emotions frequently get the better of us, things like anger, jealously, can all get in the way of righteousness, but if we make our trials a matter of prayer and think of how the Lord Jesus Christ would react, then we will be a much better person for it.

Even in our preaching we should adopt a gentle attitude and not crush people with our knowledge.

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1Pe 3:15)

Going in heavy with all guns blazing isn’t particularly sensitive and not likely to get us anywhere.

1 Peter 4 begins by setting out the idea that just as Christ suffered and triumphed in his struggle against sin, so the person who struggles with suffering has his victory against sin.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, (1Pe 4:1)

We are encouraged to take on the mind of Christ here, endure the sufferings, be tempted, but in those struggles and challenges we have the strength of Christ with us to help us through them. “Ceased from sin”, isn’t to say that we don’t sin anymore, but we can reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. If we are servants to God, then as long as we are serving Him then we won’t be susceptible to sin, and the challenge is to always have the mind of Christ so that we won’t be sinning and instead living for God and not our own desires, but the reality of that is much different. While we have the mind of Christ I think we can say that we have ceased from sin. How often we have the mind of Christ is something that we can all work on improving.

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; (1Pe 4:3-4)

Idolatry, and pursuing the things which have no godly value is the life of the flesh which we have to leave behind. Some people will think us strange, speak evil of us, but if we have set out to live righteously from the outset, then we can’t be criticised and generally we get respect. It’s when we have to back-track and refuse to do something that we were seen doing happily the week before, that’s when we are left in an awkward position.

The end of all things is at hand…(1Pe 4:7a)

‘end of all things is at hand’ – Perhaps Peter is aware here of the impending collapse of the Jewish community in AD70, or maybe he is thinking of the return of Christ, or perhaps simply making reference to the fact that such as the flesh is, it will perish soon enough.

He then goes on to list some more attributes that we should be showing.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1Pe 4:7-11)

Sober-minded – not specifically regarding alcohol, though of course we can include it, but it’s talking about self control, making sure that we are able to make rational decisions at all times.

Be loving – or fervent charity, covers a multitude of sins. The person who is loving does not rejoice in sin.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1Co 13:4-6)

The loving person doesn’t enjoy repeating the mistakes of the flesh and doesn’t enjoy watching others makes those mistakes either. The idea of covering a multitude of sins is found elsewhere, specifically in James 5:19-20.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (Jas 5:19-20)

We can obviously see the connection here. If we are loving then we won’t compromise over sin, and we won’t want to see others being led away from God by sin. It is awkward though. At what point is it ok to step in? It may be seen as critical and judgemental rather than loving, driving that person further away. However if we see someone going down the wrong path, then we do have a responsibility to ‘pluck them from the fire’. It’s hard to find the right balance, it’s not easy to approach either, but sometimes intervention is required and we’re told that doing so will cover a multitude of sins. The elders of the ecclesia have a responsibility to oversee and deal with things before they get out of hand, but we all have a responsibility to others if we are to show the love that is required, rescuing others from sin, but it must be done out of nothing but love.

Hospitality – this isn’t simply about having someone round for a meal. It’s about the generosity that you show with the things that you have, how we can use what we have for the benefit of others in God’s service, but what it’s really getting at is fellowship. It’s not about who is the best cook, or who has the best house, it’s about providing the company that another needs, and sharing the Word of God together.

Being gracious (with our gifts) – we’ve all got different talents, and we should use them in service to one another. One of the greatest gifts is being able to talk about and discuss the Word of God, being able to share our knowledge with each other, to build up and edify, helping us to grow in truth. The other thing we can do is minister to each other, helping one another where we can, whether it be spiritual or practical help.

Peter now returns to the idea of suffering, in 4:12, speaking of the fiery trial. He keeps coming back to this suffering, it’s like he now really knows for what reason Jesus suffered for and wants to tell us all about it. Again it may be against the political backdrop of AD70 that is causing problems for the ecclesia, but he’s making his point about suffering for Christ’s sake very clear.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1Pe 4:12-14)

If we have the right attitude towards trials and suffering then there is no reason why they should get us down, and instead we can be strong and use them to grow and develop in the Lord.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. (1Pe 4:15)

However we are warned that while suffering is something to take strength from, that only holds true if we are suffering in the name of Christ. If we are suffering because of our own foolishness, then that’s our own stupid fault. But…

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (1Pe 4:16)

We’re fortunate in this country that there isn’t a huge amount of opposition to Christianity, not hostile anyway. There is however a certain amount of isolation developing and the political situation may well change in future. We may not always have this level of freedom to worship God and live as followers of Christ and find ourselves increasingly isolated from mainstream society.

1 Peter 5 – Peter is still talking about the sufferings of Christ, the underlying theme throughout this letter. He is I’m sure drawing on his own experiences here as he exhorts the elders in how to care for the flock of God.

shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1Pe 5:2-3)

They are to care for the flock, not by dominating over them, but showing them how to live by example. A hands on approach, do as I do, not just do as I say. Peter had learnt his lesson from earlier life when his natural tendency was to lead from the front with a loud voice, being forceful, but learnt through Jesus that leading was all about humility, and compassion and not to seek any personal gain. This was a common failing with the leaders of Israel in the Old Testament, something which saw them exiled as a result. In Micah’s prophecy, one that very much talks about the flock of God and the shepherd who will come to rescue his sheep which had been dispersed into foreign lands because of the corruption of the leaders. Micah 2 and 3 deliver the damning report, laying the blame with the leaders for leading the flock astray.

Its [Israel’s] heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, “Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height. (Mic 3:11-12)

Peter then turns his attention to the younger believers and exhorts them to submit to the elders. But all members of the ecclesia are to clothe themselves with humility.

The elders are not the only ones to lead the ecclesia, we can all be leaders regardless of our status, we can lead simply by setting the example to others, reminding each other of how we should be living like Christ, by simply living like Christ. Just simply being holy, being separate to the world is a very powerful witness, within the ecclesia and outside the ecclesia.

However the elders are best called servants of the ecclesia, rather than leaders as they are there to serve rather than lead in the sense that we use the word nowadays, but remember we are all here to be submissive, to serve God and to serve one another.

Our true leader of course is the Lord Jesus Christ. He was given the vision of God’s plan, he knew the Old Testament scriptures inside and out, back to front, and he willingly shared that with all he came into contact with. His disciples spent 3 years under his wing, he empowered them, he guided them, he showed them how to live through his example. We too have been blessed with his guidance, left for us in the gospel records, and all of us should be willing to serve others, make the example for others to follow, not thinking about ourselves, not like the disciples who were squabbling over who would sit on the right hand and on the left hand in the kingdom.

It’s all about being servants to others, submitting to others and if that leads to suffering, then so be it, you will be blessed in time. In doing this we will receive a huge gain, if we trust in God then we will receive so abundantly his blessings in the future. Our suffering is for a little while, but God gives us the strength to cope with it.

Peter was shaped by his experiences with Christ and Christ commissioned him to carry on his work.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luk 22:31-32)

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (Joh 21:15-17)

Peter certainly grew in spirit and in truth and went on to be a great strength to us all.

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