Themes of 1 Peter

This post represents the beginnings (so your comments, input and corrections are much valued!) of my musing to attempt to get to the “heart” of 1 Peter.  What is it that caused Peter to take up “pen and paper” (“quill & parchment”?) to write this letter to this diverse group of Christians spread over a wide area of Asia Minor.

Fortunately for us, in this case Peter tells us…

“I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God.  Stand fast in it.” 5v12

What is this true grace of God?

4v12-13 strikes me as key in this argument

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

These verses give us some insight into the frame of mind of these Christians in Asia Minor.  Even a cursory glance through this letter is enough for us to notice that suffering is the presenting context of the letter.  Suffering, as always, produces doubts, questions and confusion in the minds of the sufferers.  Peter responds by telling them not to be surprised – nothing strange is happening to you.  The true grace of God is to participate in the sufferings of Christ.

Two further hints:

Peter twice uses the phrase to this you were called.  This also is something of a hint as to both the mindset of the believers and that which Peter wishes to remind them in his letter.

2v12: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

3v9 “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

Both verses speak about reactions to persecution and suffering.  In short – do not be surprised because to this you were called to participate in the sufferings of Christ.  Stand firm then, keep a clear mind, be self-controlled and alert (5v8-9), do good (2v11-12) and be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have (3v15).

What does it mean to participate in the sufferings of Christ?

To participate in the sufferings of Christ is to be caught up in the Story of God.  It is to join with the sweeping story of what God has been doing throughout history, going to a climax at the cross and to a final culmination at the revealing of Christ.  I think that this may also explain the proliferation of OT references & allusions throughout 1 Peter.

It seems fair to see both an objective element and an experiential element to the sufferings of Christ.  It is both what the gospel does for us – the sufferings of Christ is what achieves our redemption (2v24) and gives us a new identity (2v9-10) and a new hope (1v3) (hence all the eschatological language).  And what the gospel does in us – as that new identity as God’s new people, the “rejected-chosen”, is worked out as we do good & proclaim the reason for the hope we have (3v15-16) – we too share in the rejection of Christ as we are rejected and persecuted because of the gospel.  Our lives together in this age are as those who are a first fruits, a foretaste and a sign as to what the end of the story will bring when God’s Kingdom will fully arrive and both see and experience his glory. (again explaining the future language).

In a sense we are caught up caught up in what God has always been doing.  We join as his people on his great rescue mission of redemption and restoration.  We join with the suffering God at work to bring about a people for himself and redeem His good world.

2 Final Thoughts:

1) 4v19 “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

The people of God living as the people of God as a foretaste of the Kingdom of God convicts the world of their own lack of goodness and self-justification (3v13-16).  There are two possible reactions to  being “shown up”:

a) hostitility- anger – towards those who show them up.  Experienced by Christians as suffering under unjust bosses (2v18), home (3v1-6) or by the government (v2v13-17).

b) submission to the reality of God’s Kingdom as imperfectly expressed by his “exiled” people.  I find it interesting that suffering and submission are two fairly significant themes in 1 Peter.

2) 5v8-9 “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

How is it that the devil will devour the Christian?  v9 seems to suggest that you resist him and stand firm in the faith by knowing that you are not alone in your suffering.  In the context of these verses and the letter, does it make sense that the devil will devour the believer by encouraging him to resist the suffering that the gospel life brings.

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5 thoughts on “Themes of 1 Peter

  1. Colin

    Nice work!

    If you will allow me to muse in your space again ….

    I think the participation story is key to answering the ‘true grace of God question’, but along with that (and part of that) we can’t escape Peter’s references to the Spirit.

    It is actually Christ, who through the Spirit (3:18-20 – notoriously difficult passage), preached through Noah and the other prophets (1:10-11) and who also preaches through anyone who proclaims the Gospel Message (1:12). And so Peter encourages the normal Christian not to think it strange that they suffer as people in Christ – it is because the Spirit of glory and of God who rests upon them (4:14).

    It is a real participation, it seems, in CHRIST at work. Past (OT and incarnated) present with us and future. Always Christ who is the missionary, whether by his Spirit or in person. As God’s people Peter wants us to understand our identity – this is who and what we come to as Christians – to this we were called (as you pointed out).

    Wonderful letter!

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  2. John Post author

    Thanks, was going to ask you to repeat what you said the other day about the Spirit. I was trying to piece it together but these comments sparked some brain-cells my side. I am starting to see what you are on about. Been throwing this around this afternoon – trying to crystalise my thoughts into a post now. But sleep may win out for today…

    Feel like I can see all these things tangible there in 1 Peter and feel close to understaning how Peter is connecting them and why? But not quite fusing… and trying not to synthesize them myself rather than letting Peter show me.

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  3. Pingback: A Week in Woodstock « a missional life

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