Living as Saved in a Suffering World

Posted: April 28, 2016 in 1 Peter, Route 66, Uncategorized

Route 66: 1 Peter, “Living as Saved in a Suffering World”

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  So goes the paraphrase of the 2nd century church father Tertullian in his work “Apologeticum” (“semen est sanguis Christianorum”).  Persecution has been part & parcel with the church of Jesus Christ since its founding.  After all, if our Founder Himself suffered persecution, those who follow Him can expect the same.  The details of persecution might differ from place to place & from time to time, but the reality is the same.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Tim 3:12).  Paul expected it – Timothy expected it – we expect it.

It’s regarding this expectation that Peter writes to the churches in Asia Minor.  Peter was personally familiar with persecution, and what he faced in Rome is what other Christians around the world would face soon enough.  So he wrote to prepare them for the fact of suffering.  They might (and would) suffer severely – but in all things, they could glorify God.  After all, the way Christians face suffering ought to be different than the way non-Christians face it.  Even when our suffering isn’t linked with persecution, it’s always linked with our faith.  Our faith in the Lord Jesus is exactly what gets us through our times of suffering.  We have Jesus to lean upon – we have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit – we have a first-hand relationship with God the Father.  If anyone can endure suffering, it is the Christian.  And as we do, we can be a witness to all the world of Jesus.

BACKGROUND:
The assumption of Peter’s authorship was virtually unquestioned by the early church, and the church fathers quoted him often.  It wasn’t until more recent times that any serious questions were put forth, and (as is always the case) each of the objections have reasonable answers.  Some question Peter’s authorship on linguistic grounds.  They claim the Greek is too good to have been written by a Galilean fisherman, and that the Greek in 1 Peter is drastically superior to the Greek of 2 Peter.  The easiest explanation is also the most obvious: Peter (like many NT writers) had assistance.  1 Peter 5:12 speaks of Silvanus being involved in the writing of the letter, with Peter most likely using him as an amanuensis (scribe) as the letter was dictated to him.  Silvanus (better known as Silas) cleaned up the Greek as he wrote it down.  2 Peter makes no such claim to an amanuensis, so it was possibly written directly by the hand of Peter.

Others object based on doctrinal grounds, wondering why Peter (an apostle to the Jews) would write to churches planted by Paul among the Gentiles, and why Peter would seem to reference some of the same doctrine Paul referenced so often (especially in the book of Ephesians).  Again, this is an unnecessary objection.  Neither Peter nor Paul were strictly confined to preaching to one group or the other.  When Paul planted churches, he routinely went to the local synagogue first, before ever venturing out to the Gentiles – and Peter was the first of the apostles to actively preach to a Gentile, as he did with Cornelius (Acts 10).  And why wouldn’t Peter use some of the same doctrinal themes as Paul?  He was writing to churches directly or indirectly founded by Paul, and he was writing via a person who participated in the church planting in the first place (Silas).  It would only make sense that Peter references some of the things with which they would be familiar.

The third objection is regarding the subject of persecution and suffering.  The argument is that if Peter actually wrote this, he would have done so during the persecution of Nero.  Nero’s persecution (as bad as it was) was mostly confined to Rome; not venturing out to the greater empire.  The wider persecution didn’t take place till later emperors.  But again, the objection is needless.  Yes, Peter wrote about the persecution he personally experienced – but he also knew that eventually everyone else would face something similar.  So he wrote to prepare them for what they were about to experience, being able to write from experience as he did so. 

(That alone makes 1 Peter a particularly relevant book for the American church of the 21st century.  Currently, we don’t face anywhere near the levels of persecution as other Christians do around the world.  But that’s something that is rapidly changing.  We need to know what’s coming, and how we ought to live when it arrives.  That is exactly the subject of 1 Peter.)

Regarding the actual date of writing, suggestions are usually made around 64AD – again, placing it within the timeframe of Nero’s persecution.  Some have suggested that Peter specifically wrote in response to Paul’s death, which might push back the date a bit further (68AD).  Either way, a mid-60s date is reasonable for the letter.

That Peter wrote from Rome is evident, even while specifically referring to the church in Babylon (5:13).  Historically, Peter has no associations with the eastern church, and the Babylon of Mesopotamia was virtually in ruins by the time of the church’s foundations.  On the other hand, Peter’s associations with Rome are quite strong, and it (again) fits the general circumstances of persecution.  As to the term “Babylon,” it’s most likely a code-word referring to Rome – which might be a practice mirrored later on in the book of Revelation.

GENERAL OUTLINE
Unlike the letters of Paul which are relatively easy to divide between doctrine & practice, Peter’s writing doesn’t divide so easily.  Just like the Peter of the gospels had a lot of “get up & go” in him, so does his writing.  Virtually every time he lays out some doctrine, he immediately follows it with a call to action of some sort.  That said, there is a general division early on in the letter, which doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional chapter headings:

  • The value of our salvation (1:3-2:10).  We have a glorious inheritance in Christ, being called through His word, and called to be His temple, priests, and people.
  • Our behavior in our salvation (2:11-5:13).  We have the opportunity to always glorify Christ, no matter what our circumstances might be.  If we suffer, we are to suffer for the right reasons, and conduct ourselves in the right way so that others might see Jesus.

The value of our salvation
Opening (1:1-2)
Peter introduces himself quite briefly, stating only his name and position in Christ.  He doesn’t throw around the title of “apostle” lightly – in fact, not even referring to it later on when specifically addressing elders & pastors.  This is just a brief mark of identification & no more.  Otherwise, in the manner typical of an epistle, he states his audience: “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”  These aren’t cities, but regions in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).  Again, these are areas in which Paul was the primary apostle, but Peter could still speak into their lives with all the authority of an apostle of the Lord Jesus.  The church knows no geographical bounds.

Once named, Peter gives a wonderful Trinitarian description of the Christians.  They were chosen by the Father, set apart by the Spirit, and sprinkled with the blood of the Son (1:2).  IOW, everything about their salvation was wrapped up with the work of God.  If God didn’t save them, they wouldn’t be saved.  If God didn’t do it, it wouldn’t be done.

  • How careful we need to be not to take credit for our salvation!  We did nothing to save ourselves.  Sure, we may have chosen to pray a prayer of salvation in which we consciously put our faith in Christ – but that prayer wasn’t the act that saved us.  The act that saved us was Jesus’ death on the cross & His resurrection from the grave.  The only thing we do in our salvation is to receive what it is that Jesus has already done.

Before we leave the introduction, we need to answer the question as to whether these were Jews or Gentiles to whom Peter wrote.  He calls them the “pilgrims/sojourners of the Dispersion,” which typically is a Jewish designation.  At the same time, Peter uses many terms indicating that these people knew nothing of God prior to receiving the gospel of Christ, and he writes to primarily Gentile regions.  Answer: it’s most likely both.  As a Jew & an apostle who mostly ministered among Jews, we would expect Peter to use some Jewish language.  But Jews were scattered all over the Roman Empire.  Again, Paul would go to Jewish synagogues first, before ever engaging the Gentiles.  Thus the churches planted there would be mixed.  If it seems like Peter is sometimes writing to Jews & other times writing to Gentiles, it’s likely because that’s exactly what he did.

Our living hope (1:3-12)
The letter begins in earnest in vs. 3, with Peter launching into a doxology thanking God for our salvation.  It’s the mercy of God that births us into new life & a living hope by Jesus’ resurrection (1:3) – it’s His mercy that gives us an eternal inheritance (1:4) – it’s His mercy & power that guards us, keeping us saved until the day we see Him face to face (1:5).  Again, it’s all His work & His will that saves us, which gives us a certain, sure hope of eternity.  After all, if it was up to us to save us, it would be up to us to keep us…and we can do neither!

Because we know our current relationship with God through Christ & our certain future with God through Christ, now we can rejoice even in the midst of trials (1:6,8).  Those are the very things used by God to perfect us, so that in the end we will be the people God desires us to be. (1:7)

  • Don’t get the wrong idea.  We don’t have to make believe that times of suffering are anything less than suffering.  We don’t have to paint on a smile, pretending ourselves to be super-spiritual.  But we can have a different perspective.  Suffering is hard – even Jesus prayed for another way, if it were possible. (Mt 26:39)  But suffering can be used by God to bring Him glory, and the proof of that is the cross.  If God can use that to bring about supreme, ultimate good, how might He use the suffering we experience?  Trust Him with it.

In regards to our salvation, these were things the Old Testament prophets longed to see – but we now experience (1:10).  They knew what was coming, and they would envy our days of suffering, simply because we do so as true born-again children of God.  What we experience on our worst days are even things that the angels don’t understand (1:12).  IOW, we are blessed!  Even our worst day is a day that we know Jesus.  It’s a day we’re still saved.  It’s a day we are still a child of God.  And thus even our worst day as a Christian is better than the very best day of someone who’s bound for hell.

Called to be holy (1:13-21)
Peter gives his first call to action with his “therefore” (1:13), calling his readers to prepare themselves and rest in Christ.  We are to be “obedient children,” not living the way we did in the past, but living as we now are: holy unto the Lord.  Why?  Because God is holy.  1 Peter 1:15–16, "(15) but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”" Servants are to act according to their Master – children are to act according to their father – we are to act according to our God.

This isn’t legalism.  Walking a life of purity & holiness unto the Lord God is never legalism.  Being saved by the grace of Jesus isn’t carte-blanche for us to go and engage in as much sin as possible.  On the contrary; this is love.  If we truly love God as we claim to love Him, why wouldn’t we desire to please Him as much as possible?  We cannot earn His love or earn His salvation, but we can live for Him, by His grace.  That’s all that’s in view here: grace.  We are saved by grace, and we live according to God’s grace.  We don’t abuse God’s grace.  Thus we strive to live holy because we love God.

How can we tell if our motive is one of love?  When we remember the cost of our salvation.  We didn’t do the work of salvation, but Someone did: Jesus.  Jesus gave (literally) everything for us.  He’s the one that redeemed us.  “Redemption” speaks of purchasing, and that’s what spiritually took place in our salvation.  We were bought by God – purchased out of slavery & placed into freedom.  And we weren’t bought with silver or gold, but with the blood of Jesus (1:18-19).  That was the very reason He came (it was His eternal purpose – 1:20).  This is why we live for Him today.  We conduct ourselves in holiness because the One who gave Himself for us is holy.

Called through the word (1:22-2:3)
Christ is our motivation for holy living, and it is by His gospel word that we are called in the first place.  We heard the gospel, which is incorruptible (1:23), as opposed to men which perish (1:24).  It is the word of the Lord which lasts forever (1:25), and it is this word we ought to desire.  Like babes hungering for pure milk, so are we do hunger and thirst for the word of God (2:2).

Although this is true for all of the written Scripture, Peter’s primary context is that of the gospel message.  Yes, we are to hunger for all of the written precepts of God – but the main idea here is that we are to hunger and thirst specifically after the gospel.  Never get away from the gospel of Jesus Christ!  Whether we’re 1 day old in the faith, or 50 years old in the faith & still maturing, we never outgrow the gospel. We can never become so mature that we no longer need to be reminded of the truth that Jesus is God who died for our sins & rose from the grave of the third day.  We need to be grounded in the truth that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  As much as we preach the gospel to others, we need to preach it to ourselves as well.  (That’s one of the ways we stay free from legalism & guilt, among other things.)

Called to be God’s people & priests (2:4-10)
What happens to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Our lives are completely transformed!  At this point, Peter runs through a litany of metaphors, seemingly running out of ways to describe the grace and honor bestowed on us through Christ.  As born-again Christians, the children of God, we are now God’s holy temple – each one of us being a stone perfectly fit together in a spiritual house (2:5).  Not only are we the temple, we are also the priests that minister within (2:5).  Jesus is our foundation, and we are built upon Him.  And as He builds us, He transforms us.  1 Peter 2:9–10, "(9) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (10) who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy."

Before Jesus, we had nothing!  In Christ, we have everything!  We once were sinful traitorous outcasts – now we are a royal priesthood.  Incredible contrast from incredible grace!  We have gone from darkness to light, and been given the privilege of helping others experience exactly the same thing.  Now we can proclaim the praises of God, all because of what God has already done in us.

  • Have you praised Him lately?  Not simply sung a song…have you praised God with your whole heart?  Have you taken up your role as a royal priest, and purposefully / intentionally brought your sacrifice of praise & offered it up to God?  Praise God we don’t have to wait to be in a building to do so!  Wherever we are, there is the temple of God.  Use that opportunity every time you can!

That’s the value & privilege we have in our salvation – now what do we do with it?  That’s what Peter goes on to write in the 2nd part…

Our behavior in our salvation
Summary: glorify God, no matter what (2:11-17)
An old adage in public speaking is to (1) tell people what you want to say, (2) say it, and (3) tell people what it is you said.  Peter provides a great example of that as he starts the 2nd section with a summary of everything that’s going to follow.  He’s already written of the need to live holy lives dedicated to our holy God – now he’s going to expand on that.  The bottom line is all of it is simple: walk holy & honorable, so that when people see you in the midst of your suffering, your life might be a witness unto the Lord (1:12).  It would be easy to respond to suffering just like everyone else does: through fleshly lusts (1:11), but that makes us look just like everyone else in the world.  We’re supposed to look like the royal priesthood of God…so do that.

That involves submission (1:13).  There are some institutions to which we don’t want to submit (civil governments, for instance); submit anyway.  Those inside the institutions might be evil, but the institutions themselves are supposed to be a guard against evil.  So Christians are to set the example in how to live.  Honor kings & individuals, submitting to the government – but in all of it, fear God.  He is to whom our supreme allegiance lies.

  • What does that mean if the government we have is evil?  Submit in what we can, and give the rest to God.  If the government commands us to sin, we cannot – so we bear whatever consequences we must.  But otherwise, we are to submit.  Remember who was writing & when he was writing: Peter during the persecution of Nero.  If a Christian can submit to that government at that time, surely we can submit to our government in our time.

That’s the summary.  Peter goes through a list of smaller categories afterwards…

To servants (2:18-25)
Just as citizens are to submit to their kings, so are servants to submit to their masters.  Peter specifically points out that this applies not only to the gentle masters, but the cruel ones as well (2:18).  It needs to be said that this is not an endorsement of slavery; it’s just an acknowledgement of the cultural reality.  Since slavery did exist, how could slaves best give glory to God in their situation?  By enduring patiently (2:20).  This is what Jesus did.  After all, if anyone wrongfully suffered, it was Jesus.  He died the death of a criminal, when He did no sin.  As Peter summarizes Isaiah 53, Jesus was reviled but took no revenge, He bore our sins so that we could be righteous, etc.  Jesus did that for us, so we can do likewise for Him. 

To married (3:1-7)
In a similar manner, wives are to submit to their husbands.  Culturally, wives were treated little better than slaves, so what Peter writes to them mirrors much of what he wrote to the servants.  Christian wives could still act like Christians, even when married to non-believing husbands.  They could still show respect, having spirits of gentleness & quietness – something far more beautiful than gold jewelry.

At the same time, husbands are not given a free pass.  Peter could not speak into the lives of non-believers, but he could certainly speak to Christian husbands.  As born-again believers, these men needed to act differently towards their wives than the culture around them.  They needed to treat their wives with understanding, seeing them as precious.  They were to guard their wives, looking out for their best interests – even before the interests of the husband.  Otherwise, the men might find their own prayer lives hindered.

To all (3:8-17)
No matter what someone’s station in life might be, they still had the opportunity to give glory to God as they lived lives of humility and service and compassion.  Every Christian at some point experiences a time in which suffering comes, and we need to make a decision now as to how we will respond then.  We need to purpose to restrain ourselves from revenge, but rather proactively seek to glorify God.  If we suffer, then we suffer.  Those who do good ought not to suffer, but even if we do, we’re blessed (3:14).  Why?  Because that gives us the opportunity to glorify God.  1 Peter 3:15–16, "(15) But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (16) having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed."

At some point, when a Christian is mistreated, the person mistreating him/her is going to get curious as to why the Christian doesn’t respond in-kind.  That provides us the perfect opportunity to proclaim the gospel.  Why do we turn the other cheek?  Because Jesus told us to.  How can we be so sure of going to heaven when we die?  Because Jesus rose from the dead.  Etc.

  • In addition to being able to respond in suffering, answers are also needed for our day-to-day lives.  Are we ready to give an answer to someone if they ask us about Christ?  If someone asked you why you believe Jesus literally rose from the dead, what would you say?  Would you even have an answer?  We need to.  Answers are plentiful; we need to be proactive in learning them.

Our example (3:18-4:6)
Peter already alluded to this when writing to slaves, but he brings it out here for everyone.  Why should we patiently endure suffering?  Why should we live differently than the culture around us?  Because that’s what Jesus did.  Jesus suffered for our sins, and in the process, preached the good news of salvation to us.  Just like Noah preached the message of repentance and deliverance in his day, so did Jesus.  Jesus’ suffering was part of the plan of God so that He could be victorious over all the world, and let people know of the salvation available in Him.

Thus we do likewise.  We endure what we must now, all in the power and grace of God, so that we have the opportunity to glorify God in our suffering, even preaching the gospel to those who cause us to suffer.  After all, each of us will give an account to God at the judgment.  Those who persecute the church will one day face the God who judges them.  This is their opportunity to hear the gospel and repent (just like it was for us).  So don’t waste time in sin; live for the glory of God.  Peter expands on this more in vs. 7…

Do everything for God (4:7-19)
Whatever it is you do, do it for God’s glory.  Again, the end is near & both Christians and non-Christians will see God.  So don’t waste time on useless stuff.  Now is our opportunity to love one another, so do it.  Now’s our opportunity to be hospitable & to use whatever gift it is God has given us in order to build one another up within the church.

  • How are you using the gifts God has given you?  Are you using the gifts God has given you?  You don’t need to wait for someone to come up to you & ask you to serve – look around.  If you see a need, fill it.  The church (universal) needs proactive Christians.

Serve in every way & every circumstance – and at the same time, don’t be surprised at the circumstances that come.  Don’t think suffering to be strange (4:12).  All of this to be expected, and if we’re suffering as a Christian, the silver lining is that at least our witness is seen & known.  It’s when we suffer as evildoers that we ought to be ashamed.  At that point, we’re acting just like the world & getting what we deserve.  The gospel doesn’t give us license to be jerks.  In fact, the church ought to be vigilant against such things.  As Peter writes, judgment needs to “begin at the house of God” (4:17).  It’s a shameful thing when people in the world care more for justice than people in the church.  Some things winked at in certain church buildings would bring corruption charges elsewhere, and it ought not be the case.  Remember, God is holy & He calls us to be holy.

Humility among old and young (5:1-7)
Earlier, Peter had addressed slaves, wives, husbands, and the general congregation – now he turns his attention to the elders.  He was an elder just like them, and he charged them to also be humble.  Shepherds are not kings; they’re servants.  All shepherds serve a greater Shepherd, the Lord Jesus.  Pastors ought to be mindful that we are caretakers, and that the sheep we feed are not our own.  As James wrote, those who teach the word will be held to a stricter judgment.

If shepherds are the elders, than those who are younger ought to submit in the same way.  Everyone in the church is to “be submissive to one another, and clothed with humility.” (5:12)  IOW, it doesn’t matter who you are or how you serve in a church, everyone is to submit to everyone else.  Pride & ego has no place in a congregation of Jesus Christ.  The minute we let our pride get in is the minute we stop serving Jesus.  After all, we can only serve one person at once.  We’re either serving Jesus, or we’re serving ourselves.  Pride ought to go.  1 Peter 5:5c–7, "(5c) for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (6) Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, (7) casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."

  • How can we tell we’re acting in humility?  When we’re casting our cares upon the Lord.  To cast our cares upon God isn’t just to give Him our worries and anxieties and fears (though it is that).  To Peter’s point, it’s also to give Him our wounded pride & ego.  If we get our feelings hurt as we serve one another, then we give that to the Lord.  It’s when we get defensive that we start acting out in our pride, which only causes more contention, and starts a whole slew of troubles.  Instead of taking up our own defense, trust God to defend you.  Give your cares to the Lord, and simply walk in humility with Him.

Vigilance in spiritual warfare (5:8-11)
Earlier, when Peter wrote of the need to be sober & vigilant, he referred to the need for us not to walk like we did in our former lusts (1:13-14).  Now he writes the same thing in regards to spiritual warfare.  Sometimes the enemy we face is ourselves; other times it’s the devil.  The suffering we face ultimately has its source in the enemy of our souls who is looking for people to devour (5:8).  Beware!  Don’t give into him by becoming like him.  We resist him just like we resist all other kinds of pride & temptation…by casting our cares upon the Lord Jesus & trusting Him.  Our lives are in the hand of God, and we can trust Him to strengthen us (5:10).

  • FYI, when it comes to spiritual warfare, we don’t have to go looking for the devil.  Some Christians go out of their way to try to pick fights with demonic forces.  That’s not how spiritual warfare works.  The devil does a good enough job in finding us.  The way we offensively fight the devil is by serving the Lord Jesus & preaching the gospel.  The real battle isn’t against the devil; it’s against sin & death…and it’s already been won.  All that’s left now is for men & women to partake of the victory.  That’s what the devil attempts to steal away.  Be careful not to get distracted from where the true battle is.  We’re not fighting for our culture or our prosperity; we’re fighting for the souls of men and women.

Closing greetings (5:12-14)
The close is short & sweet.  This is where Peter mentions Silvanus/Silus, as well as the church in Babylon/Rome.  Mark is also mentioned briefly here – he seems to have been a close friend & disciple of Peter’s.  (Giving credence to the theory that Mark’s gospel is a collection of Peter’s memoirs of the life and ministry of Jesus.)

Conclusion:
Suffering is real.  Suffering should be expected.  But suffering isn’t hopeless.  Sometimes it’s the very occasions of suffering in which we can be used by God to bring Him the most glory & to be the most faithful witnesses.

Peter knew this firsthand.  From the moment the church was birthed, he experienced persecution by the hand of the Jews, spending time in jail & suffering beatings for the name of Jesus.  By the time Nero took his turn, Peter had experienced more than his fair share of suffering.  But through it all, he gave glory to God.  Even his manner of death brought God glory – something that was affirmed by John at the end of his gospel account (Jn 21:19).  Peter didn’t boast in any of this – he didn’t boast in himself at all…quite the change from the picture we see in the four gospels!  Instead, Peter was the model of humility, entrusting his cares to the Lord Jesus, faithfully testifying of Him all along the way.

That can be our story as well.  Suffering will come.  Be it through persecution (which is increasing in our nation), or just through the process of living in a fallen world.  When suffering comes, how will we respond?  Will we buck up in rebellion, going back to our old ways?  Or will we continue to walk wholly dedicated to the Lord Jesus, entrusting Him with everything?  Cast your cares upon Him, resisting the devil.  Purpose to live for Him & His glory, no matter what!

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