September 9, 2018

First Peter

General Remarks on First Peter

First Peter was written from Rome near the beginning of the period of persecution which the Book of Revelation calls "the great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14).  It was a time of death and suffering for the Church, beginning with Nero in A.D. 64 and lasting nearly 250 years until Constantine granted the Church official status.  Peter and Paul were martyred during this time.  John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation, and Christians throughout the Empire were tortured and killed in an attempt to wipe their faith off the face of the earth.

Peter, the fisherman turned Apostle, is the author of this book.  He wrote it from Rome, possibly in the year 64, just after the fire in Rome, which Nero accused Christians of igniting.  The Romans had been growing less tolerant of Christianity out of fear that the Christian teaching of basic human rights and the equality of all people, would lead to slave revolts, women leaving their husbands and children, and demands for voting rights for all people.  When Nero blamed Christians for burning Rome, it looked to the Romans as though their fears about Christians were coming true.  Therefore, they took drastic steps to crush this dangerous religion.

September  9
1 Peter 1

Peter is writing at the beginning of the Roman persecution of the Church.  His book has one primary intention and message; to urge Christians to keep the faith, even at the cost of their lives.  It is addressed to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, and hand carried to them by Silvanus (1 Pet.5:12).  Peter had probably  been evangelising these areas before moving to Rome.  Thus, by the providence of God, the lands around Israel were blessed with the teaching and oversight of three of the best known Apostles. Paul ministered along the coastal area of Asia Minor and into the heartland of Greece and beyond.  John had Apostolic oversight of eastern Asia Minor, to which he wrote the book of Revelation.  Peter had care of the area to the northwest of Asia Minor, to which he addressed this first epistle.

The theme of 1 Peter is faithfulness under trial based on the inheritance reserved for us in Heaven (4).  He reminds us that we are strangers in this world, therefore, we should not be surprised to find that the world opposes us, or that we are never quite happy with it.  But, though we face troubles and sorrows in this world, rejoice, for they are only the fire that refines our hearts for God.  When the trials of life are over, we will receive an inheritance with Christ, and the salvation of our souls.

Do you find that the world disappoints you?  Are you discouraged at the actions of your civil servants?  Does the future look uncertain?  That is the way of the world.  Sinners sin, and we cannot expect them to think and act like Christians, nor can we expect their plans and activities to solve the problems of life.  Do your burdens seem heavy?  Is life filled with disappointments and trials?  Did you expect God to make things easy for you?  Worldly peace and happiness were never the goal of God for you.  Do not be discouraged.  Your "heaviness" lasts but for a "season" (6), your joy in Heaven will last forever (4).   Yes, God promises to be with His people in this life (5), but He is with you to bring you safe at last to a place where sin and grief, sickness and death, and fear and despair are dispelled by the immediate presence of God (3-9).    

Since we are elect by the foreknowledge of God (2), kept by the power of God (5), and have an incorruptible inheritance and salvation (4 & 9), we are called to conduct our thoughts and lives in ways that are compatible with our faith and our God.  The whole intent and meaning of the second half of the first chapter is expressed in the words of God quoted in verse 16, "Be ye holy; for I am holy."   Holiness is our goal in life.  Or, at least, it should be.  Truthfully, however, we often forget about holiness.  We try to make personal peace and comfort our goal.  We try to devote ourselves to amusements and pleasures, and enjoying the good life instead of living quiet and holy lives with God.  But amusements and pleasures, and even the good life, can never really satisfy the needs of our souls.  In fact, they often bring more frustration than pleasure, for they usually fail to live up to our expectations.  It is much more satisfying to devote ourselves to our God given duties, and to seek holiness in every aspect of life.

September 10
1 Peter 2

The first three verses of chapter two build upon the truth stated in verse 25 of chapter one; "But the word of the Lord endureth forever."  These words conclude a thought which permeates chapter one, which is that life on this planet is short, and what ever it brings to you, whether joys or trials, will be over soon.  "But the word of the Lord endureth forever."  "Wherefore," meaning, based upon this truth, verses 1-3 encourage a response from us, which is plainly stated in verse 2; "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby."

The reasoning in these verses goes as follows.  First, we have been redeemed with nothing less than the precious blood of Christ Himself, who shed His own blood to pay for our sins (1 Pet. 1:18-19)  Second, by the preaching and hearing of the word (message) of Christ we are born again into the Kingdom of God.  Third, unlike flesh and grass, the word of God "liveth and abideth forever" (1:23-25). The "word of God" (1:23) has a dual meaning.  It is both Christ the Living Word, and the story of Christ, the Gospel, which includes the entire Biblical narrative about our creation, fall into sin, the nature and being of God, and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, who came to give His life for our redemption (1:25).  This Word will never pass away or become outdated or irrelevant.  It "endureth forever" (1:25).  Therefore, feed on the Word.  Feed on Christ.  Feed your soul with the Gospel.  Feed your soul with the Bible.  Lay aside all impediments and sinful inclinations, and, as newborn babes desire their mother's milk, desire and be nourished with the sincere milk of the Word.

Unbelievers, to their eternal destruction, have rejected the Word.  Thus, the same Jesus sent by God to be the foundation and cornerstone of our salvation is to them a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (5-8).  They feel insulted by the teaching that they are sinners, and cannot earn their way to Heaven by their own good works.  They trip over the Gospel.  They cannot accept it.

Peter also teaches about the Lord’s Church.  It is first of all built upon Christ.  This means He redeemed it by giving Himself for it.  We, the members of His Church, did not save ourselves by "being good."  He rescued us from death row by dying in our places.  He has brought us into a new relationship with God, and has made us to be a part of His new Israel, which He calls the Church.  He says we are living stones in His spiritual house, and a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ (5).  The image of a spiritual house, meaning, the House of God, in which we are living stones, is a beautiful word picture of the Church.  We are founded on Christ, cemented together by His Word, and if we are not in our places we leave an ugly hole in God's House.  Within the Church we offer spiritual sacrifices of love to God, true worship, and holy living.  Like Israel of old, we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God (peculiar people) and we live to "shew forth the praises of him" (9).  Once we were not a people.  That is, once we were not a family.  Once we were not a nation.  Once we were not the Church.  Once we were strangers to God and each other.  But now we have been brought into the family and House of God.  We are His people, the new Israel, the Church.  There is a bond between us now.  We are one.  God's mercy makes us one.

This truth should cause us to turn to the Word of God in the Bible (1-3).  It should lead us to lay aside sin and the silly diversions of earth and devote ourselves to the Word that we may grow thereby.  It should lead us to grow in our knowledge of the Word, and through it, in our knowledge and love of God.  It should lead us to grow in offering spiritual sacrifices to God.  It should lead us to grow in our love and service to His Church. 

Our Divine rescue from the death row of souls is reason enough for us to make every effort to live a life that is devoted to God and pleasing to Him.  But there is also another reason to do so; the world is watching.  When Peter wrote this letter a fire had recently burned much of Rome, and Nero, Emperor of Rome, falsely accused Christians of starting it intentionally.  Soon Christians were being blamed for everything from crimes to natural disasters.  Christians were accused of practicing cannibalism in Holy Communion, and of stealing babies to kill and eat them in their worship.  They were accused of promoting an armed rebellion of slaves, and of urging women to desert their families.  All of these accusations were false, of course.  The flesh and blood of Holy Communion were bread and wine, just as we use today.  The equality of all people, before God and in the Church promoted peace between masters and servants based on Biblical morality and on their brotherhood in Christ.  And the equality of men and women encouraged, rather than diminished their working together in the home.  But the Romans did not understand these things.  They feared that a rise in Christianity would lead to the demise of the Roman system, and that, if allowed to increase, Christians might become powerful enough to overthrow the Roman government by force.  So an anti-Christian agenda began to spread throughout the Empire fed by official propaganda.  How would the Church respond?  Peter wanted it to respond by exemplary living which will show the Romans and non-Christians that Christians are a benefit to Rome and to their communities (12).  Christians should be good citizens and honour the government whenever possible (13-17), even a government that is hostile to them.

Verse 18 continues the theme of good citizenship.  The principle of forbearance and good will, following the example of Christ is to be the foundation of our actions and attitudes within our society.  Thus, Christians should be good workers and good people to work for. This is true even of slaves; even slaves who are kept by cruel masters (18-24).  It should be noted here that Peter is not justifying slavery. He is telling slaves to endure their condition as Christ endured His, and to do their work as unto God, so the Romans will have no grounds for accusations against them.  Slaves should be gentle and forgiving, not pushy or vengeful, and they should bear wrongs done against them with patience as Christ also bore His suffering (19-24).

Peter gives one of the most succinct statements of the Gospel message in verses 21-25.  He begins with Christ as our example when faced with unjust accusations and sufferings (23).  From there, he moves to the blessed result of Christ's sufferings for those who receive Him by faith.  Christ, "in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree [cross], that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (24).  Christ suffered for our sins.  He took our stripes (beating, punishment).  He died in our places, the innocent for the guilty, and the righteous for the wicked.  He suffered for us because we were like sheep going astray, lost and defenseless in a wilderness filled with danger.  By His suffering He has brought us back to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

September 11
1 Peter 3

The plea for exemplary living for the sake of Christ, and in demonstration of the untruth of accusations against the Church, continues in chapter three.  While there are many reasons for the wife to be in subjection to her husband, one of the most important is to crush accusations from outside the Church that Christian women are sexually promiscuous, and are urging all women to desert their husbands and children or to become sources of family discord.  The Romans, hearing Christians say men and women are equals, expected Christian women to be abrasive trouble makers without sexual morals.  Instead Peter tells Christian women to be in subjection to their husbands because it is the will of God, and because it shows non-Christians that a Christian family based on love works better than a non-Christian family based on force.  So, Christian women dressed modestly because they were modest.  They looked chaste because they were chaste.  They appeared to have gentle, quiet spirits because they had gentle, quiet spirits.

"Weaker vessel" (7) refers to both physical strength, and to the emotional/hormonal changes to which women are subject.  It is not a derogatory comment; it simply recognises that discomfort taxes any person's patience, and it requires men to take this into account.  God requires men to honour their wives.  The Christian husband remembers that his Christian wife is an heir of grace with him.  Therefore he treats her as a fellow Christian, beloved both by himself and by God.

Verses 8-12 guide relationships within the Church, and give principles for life in general.  Being of one mind and loving one another as brethren obviously refers to the way we relate to fellow Christians.  But the principles of verses 9-12 are for every day as well as Sunday.  They are for life in the world as well as life in the Church.  

Verses 13-17 continue Peter's teaching on suffering in the cause of Christ. Peter wrote at the beginning of the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14) to encourage Christians to be faithful to Christ at all costs.  Verse 13 reminds us that no harm can truly be done to us by people.  Their accusations and persecutions may kill the body, but the soul belongs to God and He will preserve and guide it safely to our home in Heaven.  Therefore, do not fear what they may do.  Do not be afraid of their terrors and do not be troubled or perplexed at the presence of suffering and opposition in life (14). 

One brand of pop theology claims Christ came to deliver us out of all suffering, and to give us worldly prosperity and happiness.  Most Christians have been influenced by this theology far more than they realise.  So, when trials and sorrows come, they wonder, "Why is this happening to me?  Is it because my faith is too small?  Is God punishing me?"  But Peter exhorts us to have a realistic view of life.  We live in a fallen world that is largely under the dominion of ungodliness.  In such a world we naturally face problems and suffering.  People abuse and hurt us, some dreams do not come true, and we face illness and death.  Sometimes we suffer just because we are Christians, because people who reject the authority of Christ also resist and attack His Church.  In addition, there are supernatural forces dedicated to opposing Christ and destroying the Church (Eph. 6:12).  Their opposition can take many forms, from open persecution to personal temptation, but Christians should not be surprised when we encounter it.  We are in a spiritual battle, and we should not be surprised to find that the enemy has weapons and knows how to use them.

Verse 15 shows the Christian response to this opposition.  To sanctify the Lord in your heart means to dedicate yourself to holy living in whatever circumstances He may place you.  Too many Christians whine and pine rather than seek God.  Worse, they attempt to alleviate their pain through worldly possessions and amusements instead of God.  Peter is urging us to face reality and persevere, rather than deny or attempt to escape our problems.  How? "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts."  This will require three things.  First, accept the situation.  Accept that problems and sufferings happen, and accept the ones you face.  Nothing will be gained by denial or retreating into fantasy.  Face the facts, and accept them.  Second, trust God. He has promised to be with you and to work for your good in all things.  Third, do your duty.  Live for God at work, school, home, and wherever He may lead you and in whatever circumstances He places you (Phil. 4:11-13).

Verses 18-22 remind us that Christ also suffered.  Throughout Peter's letter he reminds us that Christ was innocent in all things, yet He was persecuted and killed (18).  He gladly suffered this for our sake, "the just for the unjust."  Therefore, we should be willing to suffer for His.  

September 12
1 Peter 4

The willingness to endure suffering for Christ is to cease from sin (1) because it is to cease striving against God and His providence.  It is to accept, even rejoice, in the circumstances in which God has placed you.  Christ rejoiced to suffer for you.  He rejoiced that His suffering brought you back to God.  He rejoiced to suffer if His suffering accomplished the will of God. We must now arm ourselves with that same attitude.  We must willingly sacrifice our own desires and comforts if that sacrifice leads us more deeply into God and accomplishes His will.  Rather than insist on our "right" to have things and amusements and indulgences, we gladly give them up for Christ.  That is what Peter means when he says "he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God" (1-2).

This attitude of acceptance of the will of God and willingness to suffer and sacrifice in His service is a complete contrast to the life of self-indulgence in which our own desires were more important to us than God (3-4).  Furthermore, those who remain in the self-centered, self-indulgent lifestyle think we are strange for not indulging with them (4).  This is one of the causes of the opposition to the Christians addressed by Peter.  Romans celebrated pagan festivals with "lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries" (3) and they resented Christians for not participating in them.  Christians had other duties, other priorities, and other values which set them apart from their pagan neighbors, and the neighbors disliked them for it (4).

What is the Christian response to this?  First, do your duty to God regardless of the consequences.  Second, let your life be your testimony to the untruth of the accusations made against you.  Third, let your life be a testimony to the Gospel of Christ.  The Lord will judge the living and the dead, let the Gospel be proclaimed to those who are dead (in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1) that they too may be saved (5-6).

"The end of all things is at hand" (4:7).  Whether this comes by the miraculous return of Christ, or by His return for you individually, the world will not last forever, and its pleasures and sorrows will very soon fade from your grasp.  Therefore, live with Heaven in mind.  Live as though you plan to go there and as though you are getting ready for the trip.  Verses 7-11 describe relationships within the Church in light of our impending departure.  Charity enables us to overlook the frailties and failings of others, and certainly others find it easier to overlook our offenses if they know by our words and actions that we love them in Christ.  Hospitality is working together as a family in Christ.  It includes helping one another, but also befriending one another in all the best meanings of the word, "friend."  This concept of our fellow church members as friends and community is especially important in our world of superficial and disconnected relationships.  To minister is to serve the needs of others in Christ, as well as to serve Christ in His Church.  To speak as the oracles of God requires those who teach and preach to do so in accordance with Scripture.  All people and all their services are to be conducted with one primary goal, "that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

 Peter uses an interesting word in verse 12.  It is a derivative of "xenos," from which we get our English word "xenophobia, meaning" fear (phobos) of strangers (xenos).  Xenos means, "alien" or "foreign," and Peter is telling Christians trouble and suffering are not foreign to those who belong to Christ.  Today's pop theologians tell us that if we are really living for Jesus, know the right words to use in prayer, and have enough faith, God will keep us from all sorrows and trouble.  Peter disagrees.  He wrote that we are not to think trials are "xenos."  They are part of life, and they are especially part of following Christ.  Thus he tells us in verse 13 that suffering for the sake of Christ is actually partaking of the suffering of Christ.

When we suffer for Christ, we glorify God (14).  We honour Him by showing ourselves and others that we love Him above all things.  We show that opposition and trouble will not weaken our love or move us away from Him.  We do not retreat when the enemy of our souls attacks (1 Pet. 5:8).  We do not give up the faith when life doesn't go the way we want.  Instead, we rely more heavily upon God to enable us to stand firm in His service, trust in His grace, and do our duty.  Thus, moved closer to God, we rejoice in our trials because of the resulting faith they build in us.
The trials of life, then, whether opposition and persecution, or sickness and disappointments that are the natural result of living in a fallen world of fallen people, purify God's people.  They are like fire that burns away impurities and tempers steel.  This is part of what verses 17 and 18 mean about judgment beginning at the house of God. 

Sometimes our suffering is self-inflicted.  If, for example, we neglect Church, the Bible, and prayer, we should not be surprised to find our faith weak and struggling. If we neglect to acquire and use the skills to earn a living, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in poverty.  Christians often underestimate the consequences of our actions, and expect God to deliver us from them. But He sometimes chooses to allow us to suffer the consequences that we may learn and grow from them.  This, too, is a part of the judgment of God in verses 17 and 18.

Suffering, then, is not foreign to the Christian life; it is an integral part of it.  We should not expect God to put us in a protective bubble to keep us from hurt and grief.  We should expect God to use trials and tribulations for our benefit and His glory.  Therefore, let us resolve to be faithful in all things and in all situations. 

September 13
1 Peter 5

The "elders" of verses 1-4 are ministers who have oversight of the church (flock).  Peter addresses them in their capacity as teachers and shepherds of God's people.  He identifies himself as being one of them.  He does not press his Apostolic authority.  He humbly identifies with the humblest of them as a co-labourer in the task of caring for and feeding God's flock.  Rather than asserting authority, Peter identifies himself as a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the salvation purchased by Christ (1).  He speaks about what he has seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears (see 1 Jn. 1:1-3).  Thus he asks people to hear him because he was an eyewitness of the life and teachings of Christ.   To feed the flock is to teach the Bible, administer the Sacraments, and lead the Church in Biblical worship and service.  It also includes a wide range of responsibilities, such as advising, counseling, admonishing, chastising, encouraging, visiting, and giving general pastoral care to the flock.  That is a great deal of authority to put into the hands of a mere man, so Peter does a little shepherding of the shepherds.  He reminds them that they are not lords or owners of the flock, and are not to act as though they are.  He also tells them to lead by example.  The two most important gifts any minister can give to his congregation are the pure teaching of the Bible, and a life that is an example of faith and Godliness.  Ministers are not called to preach about the seven habits of highly successful people, but we do have to preach about the being and nature of God and the salvation of sinners by the blood of Christ.  Ministers do not have to be great pulpiteers, but they do have to be Godly men of faith who live their faith as well as preach it (2, 3).
The flock also has duties.  Christians are to submit to the elder (5).  This includes all in authority, but it has particular reference to the leaders of the Church.  We are to honour them, receive their ministry, and heed their counsel (see Heb. 13:17).  The minister comes as an ambassador of Christ and a shepherd of our souls; we must hear him with quiet and receptive hearts.  Peter refers us to the very Biblical principle of mutual submission, which he describes as being clothed with humility toward each other (5).
Verses 6 and 7 properly belong to the closing of this epistle, and in them we can see Peter drawing toward his conclusion.  A great part of that conclusion is stated in these two verses.  Their message is essentially encouragement to accept the providence of God as it comes to you in life.  We do this in two ways.  First we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.  This means to accept His providence and do our Christian duty instead of pouting and complaining or giving in to despair and unbelief.  Second, trust God to do good in your life, even through sorrows and cares.  "Cast all your care upon him for he careth for you," means to rest yourself in His care.  Trust Him to keep His promises, and trust Him to work for your good and His glory in all things.

Bringing his epistle to a close, St. Peter warns us to be sober and vigilant.  Sober is the opposite of excess and self-indulgence.  Christians are urged not to spend their time in idle rounds of parties and amusements.  They are to be busy about their duties as parents and children and workers and church members.  Vigilant is to be on guard against temptation.  Remember that we have an enemy who wants to destroy us, who, like a roaring, prowling lion, seeks to devour you (8). Resist the devil with steadfast faith, knowing that other Christians face the same temptations and dangers with you (9).  

Peter gives one more statement of our reason to remain steadfast to the end; the glory to which we are called in Christ.  This is that "inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1:4 & 5).  If there were no Heaven or hell, the Christian life would still be the only life worth living.  If our only reward were to know God in this life and to do our duty to Him as God, that would be enough.  But, thanks be to God, there is much more.  There is a place of eternal joy waiting for us, prepared for us by Christ Himself, where we will go to be with Him forever.  We may suffer here for a little while, but our joy will be forever (10).  Thinking of this, Peter, in the face of his own trials and martyrdom, does in his own heart what he exhorts us to do in ours; he submits himself to the will of God whatever that will brings to him.  "To him [God] be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (11). May that be our heart's prayer also.

A final note before closing the pages of this wonderful epistle; Peter says, "The church that is at Babylon ... saluteth you" (13).  From this verse some have concluded Peter went further east and wrote this letter from the city of Babylon.  Peter actually wrote this letter from Rome, which he calls Babylon as a symbol of its wicked persecution of Christians.  Babylon was at one time a powerful enemy of Israel in the Old Testament.  By calling Rome, "Babylon," Peter is signifying that it is to the Church what Babylon was to Israel (see also Rev. 18:2). Though Rome and the world be arrayed against us, Peter urges us to fear not.  In place of fear, he encourages faith, with its natural result of peace in our hearts.  ”Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.”

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