This Sunday (Lord willing) I will preach the final message of my verse by verse exposition of the book of First Peter (yes there are things to learn and apply even in the final greetings of the letter). Like all preaching, it has been hard work, and joyful work, and of course enormously rewarding work. It is truly a privilege to spend tens of hours a week studying for and then crafting biblical expositions and then delivering them to God’s people for the purpose of edifying them and as an act of worship to the triune God.
In my young ministry, this is the third book, along with Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the Gospel of Mark, I have preached verse by verse here at Piedmont Bible Church. I picked these three books purposely, they were part of my strategy to set the tone for this new church. Colossians exalts Christ, and that is what we are all about; Mark displays Christ, and you can’t rightly worship a messiah you don’t know; and 1 Peter calls believers to live in light of what Christ has done for His people, and that is the goal of ministry, to equip the saints.
My plan however took a turn, not because I deviated from it, but because of the direction our culture is moving. I have long understood why Peter wrote this letter and sent it to the churches of Asia Minor, to encourage them to live in light of the gospel and to allay their fears and anxieties as the culture around them was increasingly turning hostile toward Christianity. Christians in Asia Minor were afraid persecution was coming. Peter writes to tell them not to be afraid and remember who they are in Christ.
I knew this, but I didn’t realize when I started preaching this book back in April, that in short order many events would conspire to shake many American Christians and even inspire fear of persecution as our culture seems to be turning sharply against biblical Christianity. I oddly found myself preaching 1 Peter to people who, in part, felt much like Petrr’s original readers did. So as I studied through the book, I did so with a keen (and prayerful) eye for what it said to those concerned for the future. Here are a few reflections after several months of study.
- Keep Things in Perspective
Not all of my study was textual, much was historical, and I think it is important that we understand any fears we have about the future as Christians in light of church history and as 1 Peter 5:9 admonishes, in light of what our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are experiencing.
While I wouldn’t be at all surprised if (actually) Christian churches lost their tax exempt status in the coming years or if freedom of speech were curtailed in such a way that publishing of Christian books (and blogs and podcasts) became difficult, or even if it became impossible for Christians to work in the public school or hospital systems, I don’t think we in America are going to experience anything like Peter’s original readers feared anytime soon. We fear losing our lifestyle, they feared losing their lives.
And we must not forget that even now, in some places, our brothers and sisters in Christ risk imprisonment or even death, at the hands of their government or in some cases their neighbors.
- The Christian Life Is Not About the Here and Now
One of the clearest themes in 1 Peter is that the Christian life is to be lived in light of eternity. While that is not an uncommon thought in the New Testament, Peter personalizes it, like no other writer of the New Testament. Salvation in all its fullness is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pt 1:5), the genuineness of your faith will result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Christ (1 Pt 1:7), good conduct before Gentiles will result in them glorifying God on the day of visitation (1 Pt 2:12), elders will receive the crown of glory when the chief shepherd appears (1 Pt 5:4), God will exalt believers at the proper time (1 Pt 5:6) and God will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you after you have suffered a little while (1 Pt 5:10). [And it should be noted that contextually suffered a little while is contrasted with eternal glory in Christ, a little while could be the rest of your life.]
This is particularly striking because in large measure Peter was writing to reassure Christians in Asia Minor who were deeply afraid that they were about to experience a time of suffering for their faith. He never says don’t worry, he says to think rightly about who you are eternally in Christ.
- The Christian Life Is About Submission
If I were to distill the message of 1 Peter to a purpose statement, it would be this, “how to live in light of the gospel in the face of a hostile culture.” But with that said, an enormous amount of emphasis is placed on human relationships, and the key note of Peter’s discussion about human relationships is submission. Believers are to be subject to the government, and this submission is the will of God (1 Pt 2:13-15), elders operate under the chief shepherd (1 Pt 5:4), church members, including husbands, are to be subject to the elders (1 Pt 5:5), wives are to submit to their husbands (1 Pt 3:1), and servants i.e. employees are to be subject to masters i.e. employers (1 Peter 2:18).
What is truly remarkable is that these commands are typically followed by an explanation of how God works through the submission of His people in those situations. Even more striking is how often Peter expressly says this submission is no way predicated on the character or action of the one owed submission. (And I think this, as well as Peter spelling out a hierarchy of governmental authority with the emperor as supreme has serious implications for the doctrine of the lesser magistrate.)
- Our Efforts in Sanctification Should Be Motivated By The Cost Of Our Salvation
One of the things that struck me as I studied 1 Peter is the clarion call to personal holiness. In fact I think when it comes to the need for personal holiness, 1 Peter is probably the most convicting of the New Testament epistles. Peter in fact quotes the oft repeated refrain of Leviticus, “you shall be holy for I am Holy” in 1 Peter 1:16. But rather than following that quotation with a series of commands, it is immediately followed by a reminder that God’s people were ransomed and of the all surpassing worth of Christ. The effect is that freedom from enslavement to sin was bought at such a dear price, that sanctification is really a matter of stewardship. The more we understand who Christ is, the more we should strive for personal holiness, knowing that the God’s just wrath against our sins was poured out on Him. When we know that our sins past, present and future were paid for on the cross, and we understand the worth of Christ, how can we not strive to conform to His image so that our future sins are limited? Knowing that our sins added to the price that Christ paid on our behalf how can we fail to see sanctification as a stewardship issue?
- We Are God’s People & We Must Act Like It.
I don’t think Peter’s inspired words need any explanation. 1 Peter 2:4-12:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
1 Peter isn’t preached very often, and no one has ever called me in the middle of the week to tell me what they learned in their personal study of 1 Peter that morning, but I don’t know if there is letter of the New Testament more apropos for our times. If you wonder what you are to do as a Christian as the culture grows increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity, I urge you not to look to social media, but to search 1 Peter for guidance. What Peter has to say may not be the conventional wisdom, but that doesn’t matter. It is the wisdom from above.
Click here to listen to sermons from 1 Peter.