As we dive into Peter's letter, it's important to note that he is writing to Christians and churches scattered by and suffering under persecution for their faith. They are facing very real cultural opposition and oppression which is intensifying, and Peter is writing to anchor them in the hope of the gospel. He is writing with a biblical realism about life in a very dark world, and the very specific spheres that darkness invades and the ways that darkness disorients and threatens us... and yet he is drawing their attention toward the light of the gospel breaking into that darkness, and into those different spheres. This letter is really important for us today as it addresses in a poignant way so much of what Christianity and Christians are facing in our cultural moment.
1 Peter 1:1-12
v. 1-2 - The words "elect exiles" and "according to the foreknowledge of God" are really astonishing and thought provoking. The situation that Peter's readers find themselves in is scary and uncertain. They are facing real hardship and enduring real suffering, but Peter starts the letter by saying that the situation they find themselves in is by God's design... they are not under the thumb of a corrupt government or being controlled by militaristic forces... behind those earthly powers, God's people have been divinely positioned for divine purposes. God is still at work underneath it all and in the midst of it all to advance his agenda through their lives and witness and even through their sufferings. Peter is reassuring them, and us, that wherever we find ourselves, we are seen, known, loved and positioned by God.
v. 3-9 - Peter grounds the living hope of which CHristians have in the midst of the darkest circusmtances in the fact that they were dead and given new life through nothing of themselves. He reminds us that our salvation and standing with God have been granted to us through God's mercy not our own merit. And because he saves in his mercy, we can rest in the midst of uncertainty knowing that he will sustain through his mercy. Life with God is always grounded in the mercy of God, which is ultiamtely about the character of God not our character or our circumstances. This means that our hope is always derived from looking at the character and heart of God, not at our own ability, effort or the circumstances surrounding us. We consider God's mercy, clearly revealed through history and indisputably confirmed in Christ, as the greatest factor to be considered in any given situation we find ourselves. When his mercy is as real as anything we're facing, our hope is alive and well founded.
v. 10-12 - Our faith in the finished work of Jesus is both joined to the faith and the result of the faithfulness of those to whom the promise of Christ was revealed, so that in the dawning of Christ we might see Him as the promise fulfilled. It's another place where the apostolic witness tells us that the OT is to be read and understand as centered on Christ and pointing to Christ. All Scripture is about Jesus and the gospel and should be read, understood and applied with His finished work in full view.
1 Peter 1:13-25
These NT letters are so loaded with insight that it's difficult for me to cover even 10-15 verses in a devotional time... there's so much jumping out at me. So, I'll try to be brief here by focusing in on just one aspect of this passage... There is this unequivocating call to "be holy, for I am holy." But that call in v. 15 is anchored in the call to be sober-minded in v. 13, and to no longer conform to our former ignorance in v. 14. In other words, we're called to a right living before the Lord, but as the fruit of right thinking about the Lord. Yes our lives matter, but our thoughts and meditations and understanding will determine the direction of our lives. Peter is telling us something very important and widely disregarded in our day and age, and it's this... theological clarity and doctrinal soundness are of enormous importance to the Christian life and to Christian witness.
We love this thoguht of just getting along and loving each other. One of the most popular pastors and speakers in the country, just a few weeks ago at a major leadership conference emphasized the importance of Christian unity over and against theological correctness. Theological correctness was framed as this over-emphasized, needless, and divisive thing... a barrier to people coming to faith, as though faith in Christ is atheological. And this emphasis by this speaker was celebrated broadly in the Christian community.
But Peter is telling us that our thoughts and understanding of the gospel, of Jesus, of ourselves and of reality are not unimportant in producing Christian character... those things in fact control and determine the quality of our lives and character.
Anti-Christian, Non-Christian, sub-Christian, or semi-Christian thinking, according to Peter, all lead to impaired judgment, distorted perspective, foggy understanding, and they cripple our ability to live rightly before God. Anything less than a distinctly Christian mindset, and a decidedly gospel shaped worldview leads to a less-than life. So In short, Peter is saying that your doctrine matters... and not just a little. We want to embody, in the Western Church today, a compelling Christian unity without needing to define Christian theology, and this is an impossible task.
By the way, the effort to get us there with a dismissiveness or downplaying of theological importance, is itself theological. It suggests that God cares more about appearing unified by our beliefs than that we are actually unified by our beliefs. Jesus prayed for our unity in John 17 as so many people love to point out... but he also prayed that we would be sanctified together in the truth... Jesus' prayer and heart isn't for the unity of professing Christians at all costs... it's for the unity of real Christians deeply rooted in their faith in what's true...
Theological correctness is not unimportant to personal progress in maturity and holiness. It is essential to our personal progress. Neither is theological correctness the enemy of Christian unity. Tt is in fact the only legitimate grounds for Christian unity.
To make personal progress and to develop unity, we both individually as Christians, and corporately as the Church, must get the essentials of the Christian faith right. We must be clear about the supremacy of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the centrality of the gospel, the necessity of the Holy Spirit, and for repentance of sin and faith in the real Jesus as the only viable means of salvation and sanctification.
1 Peter 2:1-12
"Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up…"
The gospel is pure spiritual milk… it’s the simplest and most straight forward source of spiritual nourishment and Peter says we should nurture an appetite for the gospel, maintain a steady diet of the gospel, and keep drinking deeply from endless supply of nutrients for our souls which are embedded in gospel. Our spiritual development and maturity is tethered to our engagement with and internalization of the gospel.
Just as the glory and supremacy of Christ was not in anyway undermined by his suffering and rejection, neither is the reliability of the gospel or the power of the gospel in any way threatened by the struggles we face, either internally or externally. His finished work is not undone by any of our unfinished-ness. We are works in progress, being embedded within and formed into something worthy of his infinite perfections. If we have genuinely been born again by grace through faith in the real Jesus, than we hope and reassurance and confidence in who we are and whose we are is well founded.
And the way you know if you have been born again is if you are continuing to root your life in the gospel, continuing to place your hope in the real Jesus, putting your confidence in his grace and finding your assurance in his finished work. If that’s the orientation of your heart and it’s exerting a claim on your life than we need not fear our lack of progress or the slowness of our progress, we should rejoice in the direction of our progress and certainty of our endgame.
v. 9-12 are some of my favorite verses in all of Scripture because it’s Peter giving gospel order to our lives… he reminds us of our identity in Christ… what it is that gives us value, worth and significance. Our life and identity is not driven by or derived from anything we do for Jesus, but from what Jesus has done for us. Our life derives it’s sense of value, meaning and purpose from the mercies of God which have landed on us very personally, and which have united us to something much bigger than us… We’ve been grafted in, and joined to a family that we now belong to… a family which we both need, and which needs us.
And our personal identity in Christ, and social identity as a member of God's family that empowers us for meaningful engagement in a foreign land, for bold witness to a hostile culture, and for humble representation of Jesus with a settled disposition in the midst of real opposition. We need a deeper and broader understanding of the Gospel, and more personal and pervasive appropriation of God’s grace to the nooks and crannies of our hearts to live as God’s people, saved by God’s power for God’s purposes.
1 Peter 2:13-25
In the context of our culture today, this passage may contain some of the most unpopular teaching in all the Bible. The 21st-century American ethos of individual freedom has take us to this radically autonomous place where submission to virtually any authority is viewed as oppression. The legitimate authority in the minds of our progressive moment seems to be that which affirms your authority over your own life.
And, into that dysfunction and insanity, Peter says, not only should you submit to authority in general, but you must submit to corrupt, oppressive, immoral, and unjust authority. I know we want the balance of what God's word requires of those in authority, but this passage makes no mention of that. This text speaks to us about submission to authority, particularly to governing authorities and to masters or employers. This is a gospel issue for Peter.
And you can put away all of your, "Well, Peter doesn't know about my boss or the greed of corporate American, or "if knew about our President, or the ruling class of our day, he would clarify some things." Peter's political situation was far worse than anything we have ever faced. And the people's work and slave situations are far worse than anything we will ever face. Peter is telling these early Christians, who are living under real and intensifying persecution under the Roman empire to submit to Nero and his appointed officials. He's telling people who are mistreated and taken advantage of and who are suffering economical injustice and systemic marginalization, to endure their suffering as a conscious identification with Christ, who suffered the ultimate injustice in the place of we, who deserved the ultimate punishment.
Everything in me wants to give caveats and exceptions to this right now. I want to make sure we know there is a time and place and manner to protest. I want to defend the rights we have to stand against injustice. ANd there is a place for all these things. But I feel like Peter is having us just sit in this... submit to authority. We're so quick to rush to all the reasons and occasions where we should not do that, so as to posture ourselves always against authority. It's as if we've decided that because there are occasions to stand against corrupt authority, that every degree and form of corruption must be stood against, no matter how small.
I think we need to consider that rebellion, resistance, and hard heartedness are the default posture of our hearts. Resentment toward authority is the air we breathe today. Cynicism, dismissiveness, criticism of and rejection of authority is so deeply ingrained in us, that we're just reflexively at odds with anyone who is in authority of any kind.
Ultimately, our refusal to live under earthly authority figures and structures is representative of our refusal to live under God's authority. We acknowledge God and his word as something maybe worthy of our consideration, but we are free to determine what we will and won't follow, or what does and does not apply to us today. This is nothing more than allowing God to be on an advisory board over which we have ultimate authority... and it's the norm within Christian circles in our day.
If you're uncomfortable with the idea of submitting to authority the way Peter talks about in this passage, good. His original readers would have been moreso and with better reasons than you and I. Let's resist the need to defend why we shouldn't obey God's authority or governing authorities or workplace authorities. Let's deal with this reality... you hate authority. I hate authority. And yet, God has created us to live under his authority and under sinful human authorities. Let's deal with the fact of our sinful hearts, rebellious attitudes, arrogant postures, and stubborn self-will.
Let's strive after submission. Let's nurture a heart of obedience. Let's pursue something of agreeableness. Let's relinquish and renounce any claim we have made to rightfully govern our own lives or assume authority over our own lives. Let's be people who are under authority at the heart level and as a way of life... under the authority of God and serious about being submitted to His Word.
1 Peter 3:1-7
Just seven verses today... but boy are they tough. These verses address marriage in some uncofmortable ways for us. I preached through 1 Peter a few years ago and I want to link to this message related to Peter's instruction for wives, and this message about Peter's admonition to husbands. If you are married, about to get married, want to be married, considering one day being married, or have no interest in being married but know lots of people who are married, I would love for you to go listen to those messages... They go much deeper than I can go here, and I think they could be very helpful.
I actually am officiating a wedding this weekend so I'm in that mode of thinking about marriage a lot this week. I think first, I want to point out that both wives and husbands are called by God, in marriage, to some impossibly difficult things... and I think that's the point. You and I can't approach marriage in an earthly way and get anywhere close to what God has in mind with marriage because he designed it to represent and embody heavenly realities. But it really helps if, men, we can acknowledge that for a woman to submit to a man and be led by a man, as selfish and foolish as men have proven to be in general, and you too in your personal ways... well, that's a big ask and a scary way to live.
At the same time, ladies, for men to have to take ultimate responsibility no matter what for the state of your marriage and family, and for us to lay our lives down to enhance yours; for us to labor, not just to hear you but to understand the deepest things about you, including the ocnflicting things within you, when you don't always understand the complicated matrix of things going on beneath the surface yourselves... that's a pretty tall order which we have little natural ability to do.
So, let's agree that both men and women are called to things which are altogether unnatural and completely impossible. And let's appreciate the difficulty of that assignment on both ends.
Wives, I'll boil it all down to this phrase of Peter's... "a gentle and quiet spirit." Nothing in your own heart or in our society will reinforce this strategy. But God is addressing you as wives, specifically joined to husbands who don't believe the gospel or who are out of step with the gospel. This is the scenario you are most inclined personally, and most encouraged by others to become for assertive and forceful and probably manipulative and controlling. But Peter says quite directly and plainly that God's strategy is that you would nurture in your own heart a gentle and quiet disposition toward him.
This means that criticism, demand, sarcasm, clamor, insults, and the like are terrible strategies... and they grieve the heart of God. They won't get you what you want. Every impulse in a woman's heart is to get louder and more controlling when things get scary or their husbands aren't leading them or loving them well. That's normal and natural. But Peter is warning against following that instinct. What's unnatural... indeed what is supernatural, is to go to the Lord, to receive from him the love and affirmation you crave, the certainty and safety you long for, and then to quietly love and serve your husband when he's in that place. To care for him and his needs, and to orient your heart in a way that's open to him.
Again, like yesterday, I know we start thinking through all the scenarios of abuse and cruelty that men have perpetrated against "weak" women thorughout history. And that's a real thing to consider. We should never encourage women to be physically brutalized in the name of submission. But also like yesterday, let's not be so quick to run to the extreme situations or the exceptions to the rule. Let's instead seriously consider the rule... the posture of heart and orientation of life that Christian wives should at the very least aspire to. Most women don't walk this way primarily because they don't desire to walk this way or embrace this picture as beautiful and legitimate. They fear this way of life. And that's why Peter affirms women who don't fear that which is frightening...
In other words, he knows it's really scary and vulnerable to love a man this way who is out of step with the gospel. It's incredibly frightening. Peter isn't downplaying that... he's taking that seriously and saying that if you will take those fears to the Lord and live surrendered to him, and not give in to the understandable fears you have, but instead follow Christ wholeheartedly into your marital challenge, than you will be living under the smile of God and the loving protection of your Savior.
For husbands, Peter gives this simple, but again, impossible advice. He says to live with your wife in an understanding way. Good luck!
Okay, seriously... this requires moment by moment dying to self-interests and self-preoccupation to give your fullest consideration of and attention to your wife's needs, longings, vulnerabilities, aspirations, fears, joys, etc. She is being driven by all sorts of internal emotions and thoughts, as well as by external factors, and historical experiences that have shaped her expectations, and other complicated influences... and it's our calling and privilege and responsibility to labor with all our hearts to understand her. She needs to be drawn out and heard. And as we put her ahead of ourselves in our own thoughts, we will inevitably be less self-centered and therefore more loving.
Men, we have the power to create a safe environment for our wives to be known, cherished, loved, accepted, validated, and valued... this is the climate we get nurture in our marriages. And it's counter to every instinct in you which wants to make everything about you. In marriage, 2 become 1 and part of what that means is that everything you do impacts this other person now because they are a part of you. So, husbands, we called to understand how we are impacting her in everything. And how we discern that impact should legitimately reorient our attitudes and actions so as to breathe life into her, rather than deplete life from her.
There's a lot more here, but that's where I'll leave off today.