1 Peter Bible Guide
Read 1 Peter 1:1-12
Points of Interest:
- ‘exiles scattered throughout the provinces’-as far as we know, the followers of Jesus in these provinces aren’t literally exiles or refugees. ‘The exiles’ and ‘scattered’ were normally terms used for non-Palestinian Jews. Originally used to describe the Israelites who were forcibly deported from Israel and Judah by the Assyrians and Babylonians in the 8th through 6th centuries B. C., these terms came to be used for any Jew who lived outside of Palestine for any reason, whether forced (as sometimes still happened) or not. Inspired by the Old Testament prophets, the Jews looked forward to a time when all of those who had been scattered would once again be re-gathered to a restored Israel. Peter is including these new, non-Jewish believers in the community of the ‘scattered.’ They might think that they’re from Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, but actually they are part of the community of God’s people, scattered throughout the world and recently discovered. In some way, they are exiled from their native land, and one day they will be gathered together again where they truly belong.
- ‘sprinkled with his blood’-this somewhat grisly image is a reference to the Passover. Back in the time of Moses, God rescued the Israelites from slavery by striking down the firstborn of the Egyptians who were holding them captive. The blood of a lamb sprinkled on their doorpost was the sign the Israelites used to show that they were to be spared. When the destroying angel saw the blood on the doorpost, it would pass over that house. Peter is saying a lot with this small phrase: that these non-Jewish residents of Asia are just as chosen by God as the Israelites, that they too will be rescued from death, and that the mark of their salvation is Jesus’ death.
- ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’-everything Peter will write in this letter comes out of the understanding that God has already changed all of our expectations of life by raising Jesus from the dead. When God’s involved, even death isn’t something to fear.
- ‘an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade’-Peter’s letter is filled with echoes of the teachings of Jesus. Here, Peter evokes Matthew 6:20: ‘But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.’ While the grief they’re currently experiencing might be painful and unpleasant, it doesn’t endanger their most valuable possession, which can’t be ruined or taken away by anything on earth. It’s being kept safe for them in heaven.
- ‘even though you do not see him now, you believe in him’-another echo of Jesus when, after his resurrection, he appeared to his followers: ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29). The recipients of Peter’s letter never met Jesus, and they certainly never had visible proof that he had risen from the dead, but they trust in him, and in the power that brought him back to life.
- ‘you are receiving the end result of your faith’-much of what Peter says here is focused on a future, when the promised inheritance and salvation will be fully revealed. But it’s not all about the future. Peter’s readers have already begun to experience the good results of their faith.
- ‘Even angels long to look into these things’-Peter’s readers haven’t yet experienced the fullness of what they’ve been promised, but they’ve gotten a much better look than anyone who came before them. Even in the midst of their suffering, they are in a privileged position, because they know how the story ends: they know that Jesus rose from the dead, and they’ve been promised that the same will happen to them. For centuries, the Old Testament prophets, and apparently even angels, have been anxious to know how exactly God would accomplish his good plans for the world. Peter’s readers have had that great mystery revealed to them.
Taking it home:
- For you and your family: Peter actually knew someone who rose from the dead and never died again. Of course, it completely changed his life. To those of us-including Peter’s original readers-who haven’t had that same eyewitness experience of resurrection, Peter acknowledges it might be harder to believe, but also promises an even greater reward. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? If you don’t, but you want to, ask God for the faith to believe without seeing. If you do, pray that God will fill you with ‘inexpressible and glorious joy’ today at the thought that death has lost its permanency.
- For your six: The prophets Peter spoke of apparently ‘searched intently and with the greatest care’ for the Spirit of Christ. Even though they didn’t know of him, he was revealed to them in some small way. Pray that God would similarly satisfy any spiritual hunger of your six. Pray that your six, like these ancient prophets, might experience some revelation of Jesus.
- For our city, country, or world: Right now, financial markets are doing very poorly and some people may be feeling like their investments are decaying rapidly. In today’s reading, Peter said we have an “inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade”. Pray that people would turn their attention to permanent heavenly riches as earthly riches are showing just how transient they are.
Read 1 Peter 1:13-25
Points of Interest:
- ‘do not conform to the evil desires you had’-Peter aims to encourage his readers to keep their focus on the great promise of a new kind of life. He doesn’t want them to slip back into old patterns of living, established before they heard that Jesus could rescue them from death and give them an indestructible inheritance. I wonder what’s making them susceptible to this falling back. Are they being distracted from the great rewards ahead by some current troubles? Or maybe they’re simply getting tired of waiting-they’d expected their inheritance to come through by now.
- ‘Be holy, because I am holy’-this is a commonly repeated command in Leviticus, the book of Moses’ laws (see 19:2, for example). To be holy is to be distinctive, to be set apart. God sees himself as different-from other gods, from the way the world works-and he expects his followers to reflect that difference. Their lives ought to be distinctive.
- ‘with the precious blood of Christ’-Peter returns to the Passover image, this time also adding a metaphor from Roman slavery. Slavery in the Roman Empire was a little different from what we might be familiar with from American history. In the Greek and Roman world, slavery wasn’t racially based, and many slaves could anticipate being freed during their lifetime (see ‘Slave, Slavery’. Dictionary of the Later New Testament, Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, ed. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1997). You could become a slave as a punishment for crime, or as a prisoner of war; or you could even sell yourself into slavery to pay your debts. Regardless of how you became a slave, there was a set price you could pay-or someone could pay on your behalf-to redeem you from slavery. The readers of this letter were previously enslaved to an unsatisfying way of live, but they’ve been bought out of that slavery, not by a payment of money, but by Jesus’ sacrifice.
- ‘chosen before the creation of the world’-both Jews and Romans looked at these beliefs about Jesus as wacky and new-fangled. Peter is saying that Jesus’ sacrifice is not some innovation. It has been planned for a long time; it’s just that the plan was never implemented until now. This reminds me of Peter’s reference to the prophets in yesterday’s passage. What Peter is preaching is not some crazy new idea. It’s what the prophets had been talking about all along. The prophets just didn’t know when it was going to happen.
- ‘love one another deeply’-I find this very charming. Peter is saying, ‘Now that you love one another, here’s what you should do: love one another even more.’ Peter starts today’s passage by saying, ‘Be careful.’ Apparently, what they’re supposed to be on watch for is something that would divert them from this path of ever-increasing love.
- ‘All people are like grass’-this is a quote from the prophet Isaiah (40: 6-8). I think it’s also another reference to Jesus, who says, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’ (Mark 13:31). Peter is saying that, as far as he is concerned, if this lifestyle of ever-increasing love were just some good human idea, it would never work and it wouldn’t be worth staking their lives on. But it’s a God-inspired and God-backed plan, and that makes all the difference.
Taking it home:
- For you and your family: Have you noticed yourself slipping back into old patterns of negative behavior? Ask God for help in the areas that are difficult for you to control on your own, so that you can continue on the path to the holiness to which you are being called.
- For your six: Peter’s exhortation to love others deeply is easy if you know the other person will do the same for you. This week, try doing something deeply loving for one of your six, of whom you are uncertain they would do the same for you. How does it feel to initiate kindness when you don’t know what’s going to happen?
- For our city, country, or world: In this passage, Peter reminds his readers of the good news that Jesus has redeemed them from slavery–not slavery to a human master, but slavery to an empty way of life. Peter talks excitedly about the fact that this way out of slavery, long hidden, has now been revealed. But there are still many parts of the world where this news hasn’t been heard. Pray that news of the redemption available through Jesus would be revealed to the entire world.
Read 1 Peter 2:1-10
Points of Interest:
- ‘Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit’-Peter now tells us what ‘evil desires’ he had in mind in yesterday’s passage. Essentially, it’s the opposite of loving one another more and more. For some reason, Peter is concerned that his readers will turn on one another: lying to one another, being jealous of one another, wishing ill on one another, and speaking ill of one another. Maybe they’re tempted to blame one another or betray one another in face of whatever trouble they’ve been encountering, or maybe Peter’s simply concerned that they will slip back into a hard-scrabble way of looking at life, where you can only get ahead at someone else’s expense.
- ‘crave pure spiritual milk’-newborn babies have a natural inclination to eat what is most nutritious for them: their mother’s milk. Peter encourages his readers to have the same pure hunger for a life of love based on Jesus’ redemption. It comes less naturally to them, though; they need to cultivate their taste for pure mother’s milk.
- ‘you have tasted that the Lord is good’-a reference to Psalm 34:8: ‘Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed are those who take refuge in him.’
- ‘As you come to him, the living Stone’-Peter goes on a little ‘stone’ riff here, stringing together three different Old Testament references to a building stone: Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14. This isn’t the first time the stone image is used in the New Testament: Jesus identified himself with the stone in the Psalm 118 passage (Mark 12:10-11), and Peter used the Psalm 118 passage before, to explain why he continued to preach and heal in Jesus’ name after being told to stop (Acts 4:11-12). In this metaphor Peter assembles, Jesus is like a building stone rejected by the construction workers. The stone is still lying around the building site, though; and the builders keep tripping on it, bashing their shins on it, and stubbing their toes on it, no doubt yelling, ‘What the #@!*$! is that stone still doing here?’ every time. But the stone doesn’t go away.
- ‘you also, like living stones’-in one sense, Peter’s readers are a new set of construction workers who pick up the rejected stone and use it as the foundation stone on which they build their lives-Jesus says, ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock’ (Matthew 7:24). In another sense, they are more stones which God is using to build a temple on top of Jesus’ foundation. Peter’s readers play an integral role in what God is doing, being added on to what Jesus started.
- ‘a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession’-not only are they the stones that make up the temple, they’re also the priests in the temple. I think this is a reference to Exodus 19:6, when God makes his agreement with the rescued Israelites:
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
- Just like the Israelites were rescued from slavery and death by the lamb’s blood on their doorposts, Peter’s readers have been rescued from slavery and death by Jesus’ suffering and death.
- Their rescue, while wonderful in itself, has an even greater purpose. They’re intended to be a showpiece, an example of what God is willing and able to do for people who choose to put their trust in him. And they’re not merely an example of God’s handiwork, they’re God’s agents. Priests are meant to serve as the connection between people and God, and Peter’s readers are like a whole community of priests, introducing the rest of the world to God and his goodness.
Taking it home:
- For you and your family: I’m sure all of us would agree with Peter that getting rid of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander would be a good idea. But, somehow, it’s harder than it sounds. Ask God to give you the help of the Holy Spirit in ridding yourself of these things.
- For your six: Are any of your friends craving “spiritual milk” but unsure of where to go for it? Try inviting them to our next Sunday service. Pray that, if they come, they would get the sustenance they’re hoping for.
- For our city, country, or world: Peter likens Jesus to a stone that causes people to stumble because they don’t obey God. In what ways do Americans stumble for lack of knowledge of God’s ways? How can you, as God’s possession, help people to see the goodness of God so they don’t stumble?
Read 1 Peter 2:11-3:12
Points of Interest:
- ‘as foreigners and exiles’-Peter is probably evoking Genesis 23:4 here. In the Genesis passage, Abraham, who is a nomadic herder, is asking the natives of the land in which he lives for a plot of land to use as a family cemetery. Peter’s readers have likewise just discovered that they are, spiritually speaking, resident aliens in the land in which they’ve always lived. The rest of this passage wrestles with what it means to be good guests in this foreign country where they find themselves. Peter commissions them with the difficult task of respecting the customs of the country in which they’re living, while at the same time reflecting their true nature as citizens of the ‘holy nation’ God is building.
- ‘among the pagans ‘-while the TNIV is generally my favorite translation, I think here it unnecessarily makes a difficult passage just a little more difficult by using a term that’s provocative to modern ears. The NRSV, for instance, translates this phrase, ‘among the Gentiles.’ Since most of Peter’s are, in ethnic terms, Gentiles, it’s hard to believe that Peter means to be pejorative. ‘Among the nations’ or ‘among the people’ would be appropriate synonyms of ‘among the Gentiles.’ Peter is essentially saying, ‘in dealing with the wider society.’
‘though they accuse you of doing wrong’-Peter is again referencing the fact that followers of Jesus were generally viewed as adherents to a strange religious novelty. As is so often the case when encountering difference, people frequently responded to this unfamiliar faith with prejudice, misunderstanding, and spurious accusations. It seems that one very common attack against them was that they were rabble-rousers (e.g. Acts 17:6-7). In this passage, Peter recommends that they do what they can to undercut these accusations, and he gives some suggestions for how to respond to the accusations that still come their way.
- ‘Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority’-Peter has just told his readers that their true citizenship is in God’s holy nation. In fact, earlier in the letter, Peter called them God’s eternal heirs; they’re heavenly royalty. I imagine this might give them a different perspective on emperors and governors; following the logic, technically speaking, Peter’s readers outrank the emperor. They might be tempted to take advantage of this newfound status. Apparently, that’s not God’s preference. This reminds me of the custom of diplomatic immunity. If I’m understanding it correctly, it means that a diplomat is immune from prosecution under the laws of the country to which he or she is sent; but there’s a general agreement that that diplomat will as much as possible continue to respect the host country’s laws. Continued flouting of the host country’s norms could lead to the diplomat, and perhaps the entire diplomatic mission, being expelled. I think Peter is saying here that we should consider ourselves God’s diplomats wherever we happen to find ourselves, and God would like us to behave in such a way that we will continue to be welcome.
- ‘Slaves . . . submit yourselves to your masters . . . Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands’-as I read Peter’s advice to submit to the country’s laws, I’m tracking with him. First of all, I want to be a good guest. Secondly, it’s in my interest to do so: I fully expect that, if I break the law I will be punished, any claim to heavenly diplomatic immunity notwithstanding. But when I get to these paragraphs on slaves and women, I cringe. I can’t believe that, in the same letter in which he has spoken so nobly about loving one another more and more, Peter would participate in assigning a lower status to two entire classes of people. And I know that over history Bible passages like this one have been extensively used to perpetuate the institution of slavery and to keep women in a subordinate position. I’m tempted to skip over this part, to dismiss it as primitive, and even to view the entire letter somewhat suspiciously. Then, I think, ‘Well, I’ve been with Peter so far. Maybe I should see if there’s more to this than immediately meets my modern eye.’ With that perspective, I do notice a few things that, while still uncomfortable to me, moderate against my distaste, and even give me some interesting things to think about:
- Peter isn’t presenting a timeless ideal: People who have used these passages to subordinate women and-in the past-slaves have tended to portray them as stating some godly ideal for society, but as far as I can see, that’s far from what Peter is doing. Rather, he’s acknowledging an imperfect reality, in which slaves are treated unjustly and woman have less power than men, and he’s giving advice about how to respond to that culturally-bounded reality. Peter’s advice is all about how to operate within an existing society, and his principle seems to be to follow the local customs as much as conscience allows. If that’s the case, if Peter were writing us, he’d be giving much different advice. I imagine he would be commanding husbands to treat their wives as equals. Even if it’s not always the reality, I think that is the moral standard to which our current society aspires, and it’s the action that would enhance society’s opinion of God and his followers.
- Peter is addressing the less powerful parties: Peter is not, by any means, suggesting that masters keep their slaves in line or that husbands subjugate their wives. Peter is talking to slaves and to women, not the people who have power over them. His suggestions are meant to help the weaker parties in these relationships navigate a sensitive situation, not to give the stronger parties more ammunition in their attempts to keep the weaker parties down. It’s extremely unfortunate that over the years free men have been able to listen in, as it were, on Peter’s conversation with women and slaves. It’s too bad Peter didn’t have a way to mark these paragraphs as ‘For Slaves’ Eyes Only’ and ‘For Women’s Eyes Only.’ The paragraph addressed to husbands indicates that his advice to the stronger party would be not to take selfish advantage of their powerful position. Rather, he suggests that they treat their less empowered wives with unusual (for the time) dignity and that they use their power to protect and support the less powerful. Peter even says that to fail to do so would get in the way of their prayers being heard. I wish Peter would have elaborated on this side of the equation more.
- Peter is talking about the specific circumstances of how to respond to unbelieving authority figures: Peter isn’t describing the way relationships should work among fellow followers of Jesus. He’s suggesting a way to approach relationship with an unsympathetic authority figure. While extremely foreign to our sensibilities, from the perspective of the time, Peter’s advice to slaves and women falls very much in line with his advice about obeying the government: everyone should submit to the civil authorities; and women and slaves should likewise submit to the household authorities. I think this advice to submit is partially pragmatic. Just like I could find myself in jail if I break the law, a slave in Peter’s time could find himself beaten if he disobeyed his master. Peter doesn’t want their newfound freedom to cause slaves or women unnecessary harm.
- Peter’s bottom line is freedom and equality: it seems pretty clear that Peter views slaves and women as free and equal to masters and men. He tells them ‘Live as free people,’ and he calls wives partners and joint heirs with their husbands. So, he’s not suggesting that slaves and women should submit because they are in some fundamental way less than free men. Perhaps even more startling than saying they are naturally less than free men, he suggests that they voluntarily continue to submit, though they’ve now discovered they are equal. I think I’d prefer that Peter encourage them to fight for their rights, but perhaps I’m foolishly blind to the cultural realities with which they were dealing. Plus, God seems to have had other purposes in mind. And Peter promises them that they won’t lose out by the choice to continue to submit. In fact, there seems to be a huge reward in store for them. We’ll talk about that more below.
- ‘by his wounds you have been healed’-verse 21 through 25 are a string of references to Isaiah 53, a startling prophecy about Jesus’ suffering, delivered some 700 years before Jesus lived. It talks about Jesus’ own submission to unjust punishment, which he accepts for the purpose of healing others and leading them back to God. Because of this willing submission, God not only restores him to life and health, but gives him a great reward: ‘Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong’ (53:12). Peter is promising that, if these slaves and women imitate Jesus by voluntarily lowering themselves for the sake of possibly drawing others toward God, they will also share in Jesus’ exaltation.
- ‘Finally, all of you, be like-minded’-submission is not just for women and slaves. In the end, Peter recommends that everyone act toward everyone else with humility and with a refusal to retaliate. Of course, it’s especially challenging for the women and the slaves, because they are already lower in society’s eyes and because they are being asked not to take full advantage of their newfound freedom. Perhaps that’s why Peter focuses so much on them, not out of a desire to keep them down, but out of sympathy for their situation, out of a desire to let them know their value even as they submit, and out of a desire to especially let them know of the rewards they can expect.
- ‘repay evil with blessing’-I think this is another echo of Jesus: ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’ (Luke 6:28).
- ‘Whoever among you would love life’-this is a more extensive, direct quote from Psalm 34 (v. 12-16), the same psalm from which Peter took the ‘Taste and see that the LORD is good’ reference earlier.
Taking it home:
- For you and your family: It seems like everyone complains about lousy bosses at work. Is there anything you can do to bring honor to your supervisor even though that person seems unpopular? If you are a supervisor, what can you do to make yourself more respectable in the eyes of your employees while ensuring everyone gets their jobs done?
- For your six: If I’m understanding Peter correctly, he wrote what he did about women and slaves because he didn’t want the church to be so much more progressive than the rest of culture that it became inaccessible. Today, these very same passages often contribute to the church being inaccessibly more conservative than the rest of the culture. Ask God to respond to the ways any of your six have been hurt by the church’s attitude toward women. Pray that God would somehow show them the respect that he has for them and the freedom he wants for them. While we’re on this topic, please pray for the church, that we would learn how to be both gracious guests in this culture and effective ambassadors of God’s holy nation.
- For our city, country, or world: Our national government currently has a historically low approval rating. What’s something you can do to show respect for the national authority despite its unpopularity and shortcomings?
Read 1 Peter 3:13-4:6
Points of Interest:
- ‘Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?’-Peter makes a good point. In general, if you are eager to do something good for someone, they are simply not likely to hurt you.
- ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened’-another Isaiah quote (8:12).
‘Always be prepared to give everyone an answer’-Peter could be talking about either of two different kinds of activities. One is defending your faith with a structured argument (also known as apologetics). You could think of this like defending a thesis or engaging in a debate. The other activity is sharing the positive aspects of your faith with someone who asks why you are following Jesus. While there is some benefit to apologetics (who wants to believe something that is logically nonsensical?), in my experience, sharing my faith in a way that shows how it’s improved my life is more engaging and less confrontational for the listener. Being able to recall those life-giving experiences at a moment’s notice is a valuable tool in helping communicate to others the benefits of having a relationship with Jesus.
- ‘It is better to suffer … for doing good than for doing evil’-if you’re going to suffer (and who isn’t!) then you might as well suffer for doing something right than doing something wrong.
- ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins … to bring you to God’-Christ didn’t suffer for his own sins (he didn’t sin!); rather, Peter is suggesting that Christ should be the example for his followers, who may be called to suffer for good.
- ‘in that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits … in the days of Noah’-this is a challenging statement to understand, and theologians are divided about how to interpret it. Some suggest that the pre-incarnate Christ (the spirit of Christ prior to his human birth) preached through Noah to the wicked generation of that time before they were destroyed in the flood. Others say the imprisoned spirits were fallen angels from long ago, and Christ’s proclamation to them was a declaration of victory for God after his resurrection. In other words, we have very little idea what Peter is referring to here, and we don’t know what knowledge he was assuming the letter’s recipients had about Christ and imprisoned spirits.
- In any event, you might consider verses 19 through 23 to be somewhat parenthetical to the primary statement in verse 18 about Jesus’ resurrection. The main point is that Jesus suffered and died so that all people could have a relationship with God.
- ‘in it only a few people … were saved through water, and this water symbolizes the baptism that now saves you’-there are two points of symbolism being used here. The first image is how the flood during the time of Noah (Gen 6) symbolizes baptism. The second image is how baptism symbolizes a person’s salvation (or commitment to follow Jesus). In both cases the water represents God’s judgment. In the flood, God used the water to cleanse the earth of evil while those who obey God survived. In baptism, we see the same picture of water symbolically cleansing the believer’s heart in God’s eyes. This image of baptism is very powerful! It’s no wonder that the church continues the tradition of baptism today.
- ‘it saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ’-baptism alone doesn’t save a person. Salvation only works because of Jesus’ death and resurrection-the ultimate “suffering for good” that Peter has been talking about in this passage so far.
- ‘those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin’-this statement is definitely a mystery at first blush. It seems to imply that if a person is suffering (unjustly) for doing good, like Jesus did, then that person is somehow becoming free of sin. To understand how this might work, it might be helpful to envision an actual situation where you’re suffering bodily in this way, such as extreme persecution. I, for one, have never experienced this before, and I’m not certain that I ever will. But I imagine that the willingness to suffer in this way would be an indication of where my priorities were. If I were willing to go to that kind of extreme for my faith, to assert the claim that Jesus is Lord in the face of threats of bodily harm, then I’d have made a whole-hearted commitment to God, one where I’d be willing and able to reject any kind of behavior that might separate me from God. While this sort of bodily suffering is practically non-existent among American believers today, many of Jesus’ early followers were, in fact, beaten and martyred for their faith-including Peter. I wonder if these famous martyrs also experienced a kind of freedom from sin that is so hard to imagine!
By the way, if you go to the Cambridge site, you’ve probably noticed all the portraits of people in the sanctuary above the windows. Many of the people pictured were those martyred for their beliefs. For a brief account of early Christian martyrs, see the following URL: http://www.allaboutfollowingjesus.org/christian-persecution.htm
Taking it home:
- For you and your family: Spend some time meditating on (reading, contemplating, praying about) 1 Peter 3:14: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.'” Is there any area where you are currently facing opposition or suffering for what is right? Ask God that you would fully experience the blessing and peace that is promised in this passage.
- For your six: Think of a time when your faith has enhanced your life, perhaps even the time you decided to begin a relationship with Jesus. Ask God to use that experience to share your faith with others that would find your story appealing. If you feel you have trouble communicating your story, try rehearsing it in advance so that you are always prepared to share it.
- For our city, country, or world: Do you know of anyone-say an aid worker, a missionary, or church planter-who is currently suffering for good in another city or nation? Take a moment to pray for that person that they might fully experience God’s promised blessing in the midst of their trials.
Read 1 Peter 4:7-19
Points of Interest:
- ‘The end of all things is near’-it’s been almost 2000 years since this statement was written, and as far as I can tell, the “end of all things” hasn’t happened yet! Nonetheless, there is a certain urgency to a statement like this, even if Peter’s sense of “near” is different from ours. Let’s put ourselves in his shoes for a moment. Peter was one of Jesus’ best friends, and when Jesus left, Peter and the other disciples probably felt that Jesus would return within their lifetimes (though Jesus never actually said exactly that — see Matthew 24:42-44), and Jesus’ return was supposed to mark the beginning of the end of times. Given this perspective, it might be more helpful to read Peter’s statement like this: “Live your life like the end of all things is near”.
- You’ve probably been posed this question or something like it at some point in your life: ‘What would you do if you had one week to live?’ I imagine this is effectively the question that Peter is asking his readers. We really don’t have much certainty about when the end of our lives will be, but since Jesus has said he will return unexpectedly, it’s a striking question!
- ‘be alert … pray … love each other deeply … offer hospitality … use whatever gift you have’-these are some of the things that Peter recommends for someone who is living as if the end is near. Most people I know, if posed the question of what to do if the world was coming to an end, would choose exciting activities to live life to its fullest before death. And this is, I think, exactly what Peter is suggesting in verses 7 through 12. It sounds like he’s saying. ‘Whatever you do, do it fully empowered by God.’ In other words, don’t hold anything back.
- ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others’–part of understanding Peter’s view of living in the ‘end times’ is understanding one’s own gifts. Here, Peter is talking about spiritual gifts-the very things God created you to do well. Discovering and exercising one’s spiritual gifts is an exhilarating experience! One of the goals of our Discovery Weekend here at the church is learning about the way God made you and how to grab a hold of life in the way that Peter is talking about.
- ‘do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you’-another way of saying ‘fiery ordeal’ might be ‘awfully tough situation.’ Peter is addressing those who have just begun to follow Jesus and are encountering extreme difficulties because of their faith. This is reiterating some of yesterday’s reading about suffering for doing good. I imagine the recipients were wondering why their lives were unexpectedly getting harder. Peter is countering their notion that this suffering is a bad thing. In fact, he says, it’s a good thing to share in the suffering of Christ! As we saw in 2:11-3:12 and again here in 4:13, sharing in Jesus’ sufferings also means sharing in his rewards.
- ‘if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name’-this is one of the very few places in the Bible where the word ‘Christian’ is actually used. In the Bible it’s always used as a noun, to describe the group of people who were followers of Jesus after his death. Nowadays, the word ‘Christian’ is used in several different ways: as a noun in a similar sense as the original usage (e.g. “that woman is a Christian”), or as an adjective (e.g. “Christian books”). Often, the term is now used for things that don’t really have anything to do with Jesus-as a sort of cultural tag, or to describe European civilization. In the original sense, what Peter is saying is that being a follower of Jesus is a position of honor even during times of suffering.
- ‘For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household-I think all of us long for the world to be set straight, for everything that’s wrong to be made right. Peter promises us that that time is coming. If we’re honest, though, we’ll also admit that some of what needs to be made straight is in our own hearts and lives. Peter warns us here to start straightening what’s crooked in us now, so that we’ll be more at home in the new and improved world God is bringing. It seems like if we don’t prepare well, it could be something of a painful process in the future.
‘what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?’-I don’t think Peter intends this as a condemnation, but as a warning. To me, it’s an incentive to share my faith in God’s saving power with my friends. I certainly don’t want them to suffer any more than they have to.
Taking it home:
- For you and your family: If you haven’t done so already, ask God to reveal to you what your spiritual gifts might be. Lists of possible gifts can be found by doing a web search. If you have an idea of what your gifts are, ask God to help you live life to the fullest by exercising those gifts.
- For your six: Pray that your friends who don’t know Jesus will come to know him, will share in the blessings of God’s love, and will avoid the most severe consequences of God’s judgment.
- For our city, country, or world: My impression is that in Boston it’s not exactly normal or ‘cool’ to be identified as a Christian. In this kind of environment, it’s hard to think of one’s faith as a badge of honor. Pray that believers all over the city would not be ashamed of their faith in the hope that Jesus would become more attractive to those who don’t him yet.
Read 1 Peter 5
Points of Interest:
- ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock’-Peter is now talking to the leaders of this community, and he’s passing along a commission he received from Jesus. One of the last conversations Jesus and Peter had before Jesus ascended into heaven went like this:Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep’ (John 21:16)
- ‘when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown’-it might be tempting to these elders to try to take advantage of their leadership position to gain money or status, but Peter warns them against that. Rather than looking for ways to fleece the flock, as it were, they would be better off serving the flock. The flock is God’s, not theirs. If they take good care of the people entrusted to them, God will take good care of them.
- ‘you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility’-once again, Peter brings up the subject of submission. Again, he follows a command for a specific group to submit by a general reminder that they are all called to act humbly toward one another. Those who are younger should pay attention to the wisdom of those who are older, but that doesn’t mean that the elders can lord it over the youths. Rather, the elders should use their wisdom to serve the youths.
- ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’-they can afford to take care of one another because God is taking care of all of them.
- ‘Be alert and of sober mind’-this is the third time Peter has said this. I think this is related to his warning, ‘The end of all things is near’ (4:7). On the one hand, the end-of the world, or at least of our lives-can come at any time. On the other hand, it might take longer than they think. He doesn’t want them to be lulled asleep by an unexpectedly long wait for God’s promises to come true.
- ‘the devil prowls around like a roaring lion’-here’s another reason for them to keep their edge. They have an enemy scouting out their vulnerabilities and trying to take advantage of them. There’s no need to fear, though, as long as they stay vigilant. This enemy only attacks the weak and the unwary. Any resistance and he gives up.
Taking it home:
- For you and your family: Peter’s not embarrassed to keep repeating the same encouragement-‘Be alert and sober’-again and again. Consider following Peter’s example today. Make it a day of repeated encouragement. Discuss it together as a family, a household, or with your friends. What truth do you want to remind one another of today, or what behavior do you want to encourage one another toward? It could be something from our week in 1 Peter, like, ‘Remember, even death isn’t more powerful than God,’ or, ‘Jesus has bought you out of slavery to an unsatisfying life,’ or, ‘Let’s try to love one another more and more today.’ Speak out this encouragement to one another as much as you can today. Don’t worry if it feels silly-have fun with it.
- For your six: Is one of your friends having problems with anxiety? Share with that person a way in which you handed over your worries to God and he took care of everything. Pray that your friend would be freed from their worries.
- For our city, country, or world: Remember the humble and the oppressed of our city today. Ask God to show them his favor in some tangible way today.