The key to unlocking the dynamic of 1 Peter is to understand that every part of the letter is specifically written to Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. Peter, with the help of Paul’s missionary partner Silas (5:12), is using the substance of the letter of Ephesians, together with some parts of Matthew 5 and Romans 12, as a basis for writing and strengthening Christians suffering for their faith in the region we would now call Western Turkey. As such, and I state this cautiously, it is probably the case that, just as a person only learns what swimming really is when they get into the water and try, so this letter will only burst into life when we ourselves directly experience persecution.
Click on the link above to listen to an audio version of 1 Peter.
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It takes about 15 minutes to read straight through 1 Peter.
The letter of 1 Peter is written in a unique style, so it is best to read it quite simply for what it is: a letter. Read it right the way through from beginning to end once a day for a fortnight. Let the text speak for itself, but as you read note the different contexts into which Peter is speaking. From 1:1 to 2:10, Peter addresses all ‘suffering’ Christians; from 2:11-3:7, he applies this in terms of the household; and from 3:8 to the end he seems to apply the same teaching to the different parts of the Church.
‘Of Gods and Men’
Based on a true story, the film tells of the martyrdom of seven monks in a monastery in Algeria in 1996 during the Algerian Civil War. The film was critically acclaimed and won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
This film explores the issues of apostasy. It focuses on Catholic missionaries in Japan, who in different ways and circumstances renounce their faith when undergoing severe persecution and torture.
Study the way Peter returns to and addresses his leading themes in each of the different sections of the letter: for example, study the ways in which he teaches that we should not suffer for doing wrong, but for doing good (2:15).
Use the BfL material and answer the BfL questions at the end of each section.
Make a list of your own questions for a ‘Pod’ one-on-one discussion about this book.
1:2 The Trinitarian work and context.
1:3-7 The reason for suffering, and the necessity to focus on Christ’s return.
2:9 Our new status.
2:15 God’s specific will.
3:15 Our testimony.
4:2 Our holiness.
5:10 The very great promise of restoration.
1:3-9 ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy we have been born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’
2:9 ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you our of darkness into his wonderful light.’
5:10 ‘And the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’
In this letter the apostle Peter writes to encourage believers scattered by persecution throughout Western Turkey, and to exhort them to suffer in the way Christ himself suffered.
In terms of structure, the letter can be understood in three main parts. First, Peter writes generally to all believers, explaining that their suffering is proving that their faith is genuine and, as a result, they will be richly rewarded when Christ returns. They are, right now, being formed into a wonderful living temple where they are royal priests, the chosen people of God himself. So, they must turn from all evil, love one another deeply from the heart, and be holy in the way God himself is holy.
The second part of the letter addresses those parts of the household that are most vulnerable to persecution and discrimination: the slaves and the wives. Since God’s will is that through doing good we should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people, all believers must submit themselves to the governing authorities, turn from doing any and all evil, and follow Christ’s example when he suffered. He did not respond to evil by committing more evil, but entrusted himself to the eternal judge who is just.
The final part of the letter is the longest section, and is addressed to the (local) church community. Peter strongly emphasises the importance of ‘do[ing] good’ (3:13) so that any accusation is quickly seen to be baseless and consequently shames the accuser (3:8-17). He again emphasises the importance of turning away from all evil (4:3-6), and instead loving each other deeply and using the gifts of God to build each other up (4:7-11). As he draws the letter to a close, Peter summarises his main instructions about suffering for being a Christian in 4:12-19. This is followed by specific exhortations to the church leaders and then the church members, before a final encouragement that the suffering is only for ‘a short while’ after which God himself ‘will restore and establish you’ (5:10).
This letter is full of compassion, wisdom and pastoral love for believers suffering for their faith. Again and again, Peter explains and illustrates his instructions and exhortations with examples and reflections from crucifixion itself. The letter is essentially a meditation on the cross: the cross is Peter’s manual for suffering and it is the example for the believer’s lifestyle, as Peter himself first heard Jesus say: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34).
Question 1 -
Have you ever experienced discrimination for being a Christian? What actually happened? Have you ever been persecuted specifically because you believe in Jesus?
Question 2 -
Information from Open Doors, the organisation that campaigns on behalf of persecuted Christians worldwide, shows that Christians are being killed for their faith in more countries than ever before. In 2017, for the fourth year in a row, we are witnessing the increase in the number of countries killing Christians. Do you know anyone who is being persecuted?
Question 3 -
How can we endure persecution (4:12-19)?
1. Peter's own story of suffering
2. Why do Christians suffer?
3. Lifestyle in persecution
4. Focusing on our future
There is much debate about who the actual author is. It could be Peter, or Peter with the help of Silvanus (Silas), or Silvanus himself, or someone else who was claiming to be Peter. The quality of the Greek is considered as crucial to this argument. Nevertheless, despite the furore there is not one convincing reason why we should not accept exactly what the letter itself states: that Peter wrote it with the assistance of Silas. This perspective gives an entirely convincing explanation for the obvious “Pauline” content in the letter: the Trinitarian beginning (1 Cor 12:4-6, 1 Cor 8:4-6, Eph 1:3-14), the use of ‘household’ categories (2:13-3:7), the temple imagery (2:4-10, Ephesians 2:19-22), and the final comments on spiritual warfare (5:8-9, Ephesians 6:10-20). In addition, we should feel the weight and significance that the author of this manual places on suffering for Christ, as he himself failed to suffer and compromised his faith in Christ at his very first test in Gethsemane. The very disciple who so conspicuously failed has now become the chief pastor and exhorter to faithful suffering.
This letter must have been written after the letter of Ephesians but before Peter was executed in the mid CE60s and while Silas was still alive but ministering independently of Paul. So a date in the early CE60s fits best.
The letter is written to Christians scattered throughout Western Turkey who are suffering for their faith. The letter teaches and instructs these believers how to endure suffering and persecution and remain ‘strong, firm and steadfast’ (5:10) through it. It is possible that these believers were expelled from Rome, hence the introductory title ‘exiles‘ (1:1).
The document entitled ‘1 Peter’ follows the contemporary structure of a letter written in the Roman Empire in first century: named recipients and author at the beginning, the body of text containing exhortation and instruction, and final greetings and the name of the assistant to the author at its end.
Structure of 1 Peter:
1:1 – 2 Introduction
1:1-2 The letter is written to Christians in Western Turkey.
Part 1 1:3 – 2:10 How to face persecution in the world
1:3-9 Praise to God for the salvation we are receiving.
1:10-12 This salvation, suffering and glory was prophesied long ago …
1:13-16 … so live holy lives …
1:17-21 … live in reverent fear and profound gratitude …
1:22-2:3 … and love each other deeply.
2:4-8 We are being built into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.
2:9-10 The glorious status and privilege of the people of God.
Part 2 2:11 – 3:22 Persecution in the household and God’s specific will that by ‘doing good’ we silence foolish people
2:11-12 Summary appeal: abstain from evil desires, live godly lives.
2:13-17 To everyone facing persecution from civil authorities.
2:18-25 To slaves who are persecuted.
3:1-6 To wives facing persecution.
3:7 To husbands.
3:8-12 To all believers…
3:13-17 …do good … so that those who oppose you will be ashamed.
3:18-22 Christ’s saving work of atonement.
Part 3 4:1 – 5:11 How the local Church can stand firm in persecution
4:1-6 Arm yourselves with Christ’s attitude to suffering.
4:7-11 Peter instructs the local church HOW to endure.
4:12-19 Three reasons WHY persecution comes and three ways to respond.
5:1-4 To the elders.
5:5-7 To the local church members.
5:8-9 The spiritual battle.
5:10-11 The great promise of restoration.
5:12 – 14 Final Greetings
5:12 Silas’ help.
Question 1 -
Apostasy is the act of formally and publicly renouncing faith, whereas backsliding is drifting away (Matthew 24:12). Do you know anyone who has committed apostasy?
Question 2 -
Why does our heavenly Father, who has chosen us (1:1, 2:9), allow us to suffer?
Question 3 -
The persecution of Christians worldwide has escalated significantly during the second decade of the 21st Century. How should the Church (in a safe country like Britain) respond?
Question 4 -
Peter identifies ‘slaves’ and ‘wives' (of non-Christian husbands) as two categories in the household that are most prone to discrimination and persecution. Which categories are most vulnerable in your town, community and household?
Question 5 -
While I have been preparing this material on 1 Peter for BfL, Islamists have targeted and killed another group of Coptic Christians in Egypt. If you could write a letter to our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, what things from the letter of 1 Peter would you mention?
Verse by Verse
1:1-2 The letter is written to Christians in Western Turkey
1:1 – 2 Peter addresses the dispersed suffering Christians in Asia Minor
Peter uses a Trinitarian structure within the normal greeting structure for a letter to greet the dispersed suffering Christians in northern Asia Minor (North West Turkey). These phrases carry rich meaning. Transcending all the suffering they are enduring as displaced strangers in society, the first and the leading feature of believers is that we are ‘chosen‘ by God the Father himself (v2). We have been sanctified by the Spirit, in order to live in obedience to Christ who has atoned for us.
1:3 – 12 Peter begins by instructing those suffering persecution to focus on the salvation that God has given, is giving and will give us. It is these three features of salvation that guide the structure of his opening exhortations:
1:3-7 Our future salvation
1:8-9 Our present salvation
1:10-12 Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s suffering and glory.
1:3 – 9 Praise to God for the salvation we are receiving
Peter is writing to strengthen the apprentices of Jesus who are suffering persecution, so it is significant that he begins with an overflowing celebration of the certain hope of our future in Christ. The first sentence, which spans almost three verses celebrates the ‘hope’ (v3), the ‘inheritance’ (v4) and the ‘power’ (v5) we have in Christ and thereby exactly reflects the key petitions in Paul’s first prayer for all believers in Ephesians 1:17-19. This is an example of Silas’ influence on Peter as he writes (5:12). Peter’s strategy is clear: he is telling the apprentices of Jesus very plainly that not only is their future wonderful and secure, but the suffering they are enduring is deeply worthwhile because God is using it refine them and prepare them for their future in Christ – if you can see the goal, it’s easier to run towards it.
V7 In Christ, even our sufferings are transformed into tools for our sanctification and strengthening, so that through perseverance our faith is proved entirely authentic. Then, astonishingly, we shall be rewarded at the judgement with a commendation from Christ himself that gives us honour, praise and glory in heaven itself!
V8-9 Peter’s statement needs to be heard for what it is. In Christ, there is not just joy in the Spirit, but extreme joy! Think of Richard Wurmbrand leaping for joy in his prison cell. This joy is not just evidence that we shall one day receive salvation in Christ, it is itself part of the glorious salvation that we are even now receiving in Christ. Incidentally, this statement fully justifies laughter in the Christian community and in worship; how can a person be ‘filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ and never laugh?
1:10 – 12 This suffering, salvation and glory was prophesied long ago
In this rather complicated short section, Peter seems to be describing the process of revelation by the Spirit first to the (Old Covenant) prophetic people who prophesied the ‘glories’ (v11)that would follow the suffering of Christ, and secondly the revelation of the Gospel to people now. But in describing ‘this salvation’ (v10), Peter is looking beyond just the part of the salvation that we have so far received. He is looking well ahead to the ‘glories’ that will come at the return of Christ. This is why ‘angels long to look into these things’ (v12). Peter is focusing on our future ‘glories’ in Christ, in order to further motivate those who are being persecuted to be faithful to Christ as they suffer.
V13 This verse is both the concluding application of Peter’s argument to this point, and the introduction to his second general argument, that those who suffer persecution must live holy lives.
1:13 – 2:3 Peter’s second exhortation is that those suffering for Christ must live holy lives.
1:13 – 16 … so live holy lives ….
Peter now gives five clear instructions about how to endure persecution and ‘survive’ it. First, ‘prepare your minds for action’ (v13, ESV) – the victory over persecution starts in the mind with an attitude. Second, be self-controlled (v14) – personal discipline is absolutely essential. Third, and this is the crucial one, ‘set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is (will be) revealed’ (v13) – set your vision on the goal and run towards it! Fourth, avoid all evil desires (v14), because, fifth, we are to be ‘holy’ (v15), that is, we are to be set apart for God. Just as my toothbrush is set apart for me and no one else uses it, and I do not use it to clean my boots, so apprentices of Jesus are set apart for Christ alone, and for his work and calling.
V15-16 Peter is writing to those experiencing vicious persecution. So this imperative ought to be read in this context. Holiness, that is, being separated for God’s special use, means that unforgiveness, being judgemental and harbouring thoughts of revenge must all be thrown out. Jesus forgave those who were killing him, and we should try and do the same. That is exactly why we should begin this by preparing our minds, being self-controlled, and setting our hope fully on the grace that will be given to us when Jesus is revealed (v13-14).
1:17 – 21 … live in reverent fear and profound gratitude …
These verses function as an endorsement of the imperatives listed in v13-16 that ought to shape our lives while we are being persecuted. Peter makes two leading points. First, God is absolutely impartial so we should live our lives before him in reverent fear. Second, God has redeemed us at the supreme cost of his own Son’s death. Therefore, we should live our lives before God in reverent fear and profound gratitude. Throughout this letter, Peter constantly refers back to the suffering and atoning work of Christ. Christ’s death demonstrates how to suffer perfectly, but it is also the means of God’s atoning work.
1:22 – 2:3 … you have been born again so love one another deeply.
First, we have been born again by receiving the word of God – the enduring, imperishable, living truth that stands forever. Second, we must as a result ‘love one another deeply, from the heart’ (v22). This is of course the one command that Jesus gave us, and Paul states ‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’ (Galatians 5:6). Finally, Peter returns to his main point of 1:15, that we must live holy lives, especially when we are being persecuted. This will specifically mean that ‘malice, and all deceit and hypocrisy, envy and slander’ (2:1) must go! In their place we must ‘crave pure spiritual milk’ (2:2).
2:4 – 10 Peter’s third general exhortation is that those suffering for Christ must understand and hold onto what we are, and what we are becoming.
2:4 – 8 We are being built into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood
This section is essentially a developed exposition of Jesus’ own (very sharp) admonition in his summary comments at the end of the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:42-43). Having taught about the essential lifestyle features needed in order to endure suffering and overcome it, Peter now focuses on the goal of our discipleship here on earth. This is one of the current aspects of our hope. It is that we ‘are being built into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood’ (v5). Peter focuses on the ‘spiritual house’ in verses 6-8 and further develops the priesthood theme in v9-10. The image of God starting with a field and then building a temple is first seen in 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, then in Ephesians 2:19-22, and now used by Peter and Silas here. It is a striking and beautiful image where every believer grows into his and her place in the worshipping community, activated and gifted by the Spirit, and appointed into a place to serve the Lord.
V6-8 The central idea here is that Jesus is the central stone around which God the master builder is building his house. The final sentence states that those who rejected Jesus were always destined to do so. This is not because God made them to reject him, but because by their own choice they set off in a direction which was always likely to end in them missing the mark – if you walk directly towards a cliff you are very likely to fall off it! God himself is absolutely clear that he wants all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9) and at astonishing personal cost has done everything necessary to enable this to happen. Anyone who misses God’s best for them does solely as a result of their own choice.
2:9 – 10 The glorious status and privilege of the people of God
In some of the most famous verses in the letter, Peter assures and encourages those who are being persecuted for Christ that already they are together ‘chosen, royal, priests… holy… and God’s own possession‘ (v9). Although disparate and scattered, they are nevertheless ‘the people of God’ (v10) who because of his mercy have been called out of darkness in order to proclaim the praises of God. Not only are we living stones in the living temple of God, but we are royal priests within that temple; we are chosen, holy, and called to declare his praise before the world.
V9 Peter has stressed throughout this letter that we are ‘chosen’. Firstly, Jesus himself was ‘chosen’ (1:20 and 2:6), and now we have been chosen along with him (1:2 and 2:9). This is a profound truth and comfort to anyone isolated and persecuted for their loyalty to Christ.
Having established the key principles by which believers can face, endure and survive persecution, Peter now teaches these principles to the different members of the Roman household. Once again, the very obvious parallel with the material of Ephesians demonstrates Silas’ clear influence at this point. Silas was in Paul’s team as they ministered together during the powerful mission in ‘Western Turkey’, and while Paul spent three years in Ephesus (Acts 19). It seems that ‘Ephesians’ is a general letter summing up Paul’s discipleship course (‘Alpha Course’) that he developed and used during this powerful time of expansion.
2:11 – 12 Summary appeal: abstain from evil desires, live godly lives
Having focused on the glorious future, our hope (1:13, 21), that every believer has in Christ, Peter closes his opening section with a final appeal to those undergoing suffering that we must abstain from all evil desires, which can only lead to destruction, and live lives that are so attractive that outsiders are impressed and even won over to Christ, so that they also glorify God when Jesus returns.
V11 ‘sinful desires’ are first identified by Jesus in Mark 7:20-23: ‘evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly’. James explains the process by which these become temptations in James 1:14-15. In the large picture, each of these is a different form of desire for idolatry: for something, even good things, to take the primary place of God in our lives.
V12 There is a very obvious parallel between this verse and Matthew 5:16; Peter is quoting Jesus here.
2:13 – 17 General imperatives for all believers facing persecution
All believers should submit – live in obedience to – all civil authorities. God wants his children to live such exemplary and attractive lives that those who criticise them make themselves look stupid. Everyone loves and longs for a society of good, honest, caring, sacrificial, outwardly concerned citizens, and when Christians live like this they publicly shame those who denigrate them. Peter may have first understood this principle from Jesus through the extraordinary story of the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:24-27): ‘then the sons are exempt, … but so that we may not offend them’. We are ‘freemen’, but our freedom does not give us a license to do evil. We should submit to the church authorities, to God himself, and to the government that rules the country and maintains civil order. This passage closely parallels Paul’s argument in Romans 13:1-5.
V13 Our submission to the Lord is lived out in submission to the authorities here, which should only be disobeyed when their demands contradict the higher laws of heaven.
V14 Civilisation is a gift from God and a powerful means of restraining evil. The police force actively restrains evil in the community. The leading feature of ‘the man of lawlessness’ who will come just before Christ returns (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) is precisely that: he is ‘lawless’ – his period of government will instigate complete anarchy!
V15 This is one of Peter’s main points in this letter (2:20; 3:16).
V16 This is a profound Pauline point: we are free! ‘You my brothers were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature’ (Galatians 5:13). We have been freed from all that bound us, so we can seek the Kingdom with every ounce of energy we possess (Matthew 6:33). ‘… that you may live your lives in undivided devotion to the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:35).
2:18 – 25 To slaves undergoing persecution
All believers are equal at the cross, but Peter’s compassion for the most vulnerable is demonstrated by the fact that the first household group he addresses are those ‘at the bottom’, those likely to suffer most: the Christian slaves. To be a slave, without rights, is bad enough, but by choosing to be a despised Christian would be to put yourself in a most vulnerable position. Peter writes more to the slaves than any other household group. They should submit, even to those masters who are harsh, and even when they suffer unjustly. Such behaviour ‘is commendable before God’ (v20), Jesus himself being the leading example in this. He did not retaliate with either insults or threats (v23). Instead he entrusted himself to the perfectly just judge in heaven.
V24 Although the evangelical is likely to grasp this text as proof for substitutionary atonement, it should also be admitted that such a line of thought does not flow naturally from Peter’s argument up to this point. Peter is arguing that slaves should endure harsh suffering by following the example of Jesus himself who did not retaliate with insults and threats. Jesus endured extreme suffering and entrusted himself, his unfair suffering, and his future into the hands of God in heaven! In this way Jesus absorbed and bore the full force of human sin in himself even to the point of actually dying. Peter’s argument at this point is that he thereby gave us all, and Christian slaves in particular, an outstanding example of how we should live righteously even when we suffer horribly. Peter’s point is similar to Paul’s longing ‘to be like him in his death’ (Philippians 3:10). The goal is that ‘we might die to sins and live for righteousness’ (v24), and Peter seems to be saying that in terms of discipleship, suffering really does have the effect of driving petty sins out of our lives. No person who has suffered hatred and violence for being a Christian and has maintained their faith will, after it has finished, allow petty sins of pornography, or criticism, or backbiting to rule in their spirit.
3:1 – 6 To wives undergoing persecution
Wives are addressed next because they have more power and authority than slaves, but not as much as their husbands. Peter almost certainly has primarily in view Christian women married to non-Christian husbands. Peter’s exhortation to them is exactly the same as to all Christians in respect of the civil authorities (2:13), and then to slaves in relation to their masters (2:18): ‘submit’. However, this must be understood in the specific context of the letter, that of the persecution that the Christian community is experiencing from outsiders. This is precisely the context that Peter spells out in his first sentence: ‘so that if any of them (husbands) do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives’ (v1-2). Once again, Peter is specifically applying the principle that evil is silenced and rendered foolish, secondary and obsolete in contrast to the beauty and sheer attractiveness of a Christ-like character (2:12, 15, 20-23). Believing wives should pursue the attractiveness that comes from having the ‘gentle and a quiet spirit’ of Christ (v4) – rather than the outward attractiveness of sexy clothes and hair. Peter’s point is that the essence of the Christ-like character is far more important, powerful and winning than the outward, temporary, “worldly” strategy of ‘outward adornment’ (v3). Peter may have been thinking of Jesus’ teaching: ‘clean the inside of the cup, and the outside also will be clean’ (Matthew 23:26). This emphasis on submission should not be misconstrued as supporting physical abuse in marriage. The subject is not addressed, and any potential misunderstanding by husbands is immediately corrected in the very next verse.
V6 The final reference to ‘fear’ confirms that throughout this section, Peter is focussing on believing wives of unbelieving husbands. They are not to fear their husbands as if everything about their future depended on the man’s response, but they must ‘put their hope in God’ (v5) – they must live their lives within the perspective of their certain future with and in Christ! Christ is their greater husband, which is another reason why they should pursue his character of ‘purity, reverence, … and a gentle and quiet spirit’.
3:7 To husbands
In their position of authority over their households, Peter has only the relatively brief exhortation to husbands that they should be considerate and respectful of the weaker partner in the marriage. Peter is not saying that women are weak, he is exhorting the physically stronger spouse to extend considerate respect for the relatively physically weaker spouse. Husband and wife are equal at the cross and are already inheriting equally in Christ. Finally, there is a warning to husbands: God will not listen to your prayers if your behaviour to your wives is inconsiderate and disrespectful.
3:8 – 12 To everyone
In verses 8-12 Peter once again appeals to all believers to love each other peacefully with compassion and humility. These themes are very similar to Romans 12:14,16,17 and 21, where believers are instructed to overcome evil with good. V10-12 are a quotation from Psalm 34:12-16 which emphasises the importance of godly and truthful speech, and warns the believer that the Lord himself is actively against all evil speech and action. Peter’s argument is once again that, despite all the difficulties of the ‘trials’ (1:6), the accusations (2:12) and the ‘unjust suffering’ (2:19) that believers in Christ may face, we must never return evil for evil, because ‘it is God’s will that by doing good we should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (2:15).
3:13 – 17 ‘…do good … so that those who speak against you may be ashamed’
Peter now returns to his leading argument in this second section of the letter, that ‘it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men’ (2:15). He has argued and applied this to each part of the household, with the exception of the sentence about husbands in v7 (2:15, 2:19-23, 3:1, and now 3:16). In v15 he articulates two important principles for enduring non-Christian hostility. Firstly, deep in our hearts we should enthrone Jesus as Lord, commit ourselves to him and trust him whatever the outcome. Second, we must be ready to gently and respectfully explain why we are quietly so sure about our future with Christ.
3:18 – 22 Christ’s saving work of atonement
When suffering, the believer’s primary example is Christ himself, not just because he was faithful even to the point of death, but because ‘Christ died for our sins’ (v18). Peter now once again (1:11, 18-19, 2:24) returns to this primary topic of Christ’s atoning work, choosing ‘salvation’ as the main perspective. Although Peter’s argument seems unusual with its details about the eight people saved from the flood, the substance is that ‘Christ died for sins’ (v18), and was ‘made alive by the Spirit’ (v19) , and it is by (faith in) the resurrection we are saved (v21). The paragraph can therefore be viewed as an exposition of the essence of Paul’s gospel articulated in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 into which Peter has extrapolated an allegorical understanding of Noah’s family being saved from destruction.
4:1 – 6 Arm yourselves with Christ’s attitude to suffering
Peter continues teaching the local Christian community how to endure suffering. First the community must jointly adopt the very attitude Christ had to suffering (v1). The New Testament never teaches that we shall be perfect this side of death, but this verse does teach that suffering focuses a believer’s commitment, so that having paid such a cost to come through persecution, those that love Jesus will no longer throw away their loyalty to Christ over a trivial temptation. Verse 2 expresses this clearly. To give a first century illustration, the man who pays a huge cost to become a Roman citizen (Acts 21:28) will not then denigrate his new status, or pour public scorn on it, similarly, any believer who has been isolated and rejected by his/her community because of their faith in Christ will not then get involved in a drunken fight outside a pub. Peter’s second point (v3) is to stress again that believers must turn completely from immorality and idolatry (Acts 15:28, Galatians 5:19-20). Peter’s third point is that believers must remember that all humanity will face a future judgement.
V6 This verse is ambiguous. It seems to mean that those believers who have died before Peter wrote this letter were nevertheless still able to live in the Spirit both after their conversion and before their death, and subsequently also after their death.
4:7 – 11 Peter instructs the local Church HOW to endure persecution
Peter gives the community four exhortations. The first is to discipline their thinking: ‘be clear minded, and self-controlled so you can pray’ (v7), because no individual will get through persecution without the essentials of clear thinking, especially about our certain hope (1:13), and the lifeline of disciplined prayer. The second is to ‘love each other deeply’ (v8), because this is the one command that Jesus gave us, and it defines us: ‘by this shall all men will know you are my disciples’ (John 13:35). Jesus gave the command at the very point when the disciples faced their greatest test – when Judas was on the way to betray Jesus and thereby decimate the movement. The third essential for the community facing persecution is to look after each other by offering hospitality to each other. The enemy’s strategy is to isolate believers and then get them to turn from Christ, but for the isolated believer the meal table is the place of powerful fellowship and strengthening. Peter’s fourth exhortation to the persecuted community is that they serve each other by fully using the spiritual gifts they have been given. Peter especially identifies the gift of teaching the word of God, because Satan’s attack (especially in persecution) is to undermine what God has said (Genesis 3:1, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 8:31-33). All members of the persecuted believing community should serve one another with all ‘the strength God provides’ (v11) because the motive throughout is that we live in such a way that people watch and then praise God (2:12).
4:12 – 19 Peter summarises the main points of the letter
This section seems to summarise all the main arguments and themes of the letter. From 4:1, Peter has been addressing the whole local Christian church. He has cited Christ as their example to follow (4:1-6), and taught four principal ways for enduring and triumphing over persecution (4:7-11). Now he gives three reasons why persecution comes and, in each case, teaches how to respond.
First (v12-13), persecution comes because as we live with Christ we ‘participate in the sufferings of Christ’ (v13). No one should be ‘surprised’ (v12) at this because Jesus was quite clear this would happen (Matthew 10:17-42). Instead, we should ‘rejoice’ (v13); indeed when Christ returns we shall be overjoyed.
Second (v14-16), persecution comes because ‘the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you’ (v14), and we bear the name Christian! See Acts 5:41. This is a profound offence to the world which responds aggressively.
Third (v17-19), persecution comes because ‘judgement begins with the house of God’ (v17). Hebrews 12:7-13 sheds considerable light on this. God disciplines us, as sons (Galatians 4:5-7), in order that we share his holiness – that we become separated (from sin) for his use! The Christian life is not a joke, it is serious business and our Father’s plans for us are eternal and immense, and so we must learn to obey him. Those believers who live as enemies of the cross (Mark 8:34) will sooner or later find themselves in ruin (Philippians 3:19). So although it is not easy to understand, there is a dimension to our suffering which is an expression of God’s will for us, and our response should be to ‘commit’ ourselves to God – who is ‘faithful’ and therefore entirely reliable and trustworthy – ‘and continue to do good’ (v19).
5:1 – 4 To the elders – when the local Church is experiencing persecution
From 3:8, Peter has been focusing on the local church in persecution and, following his pattern in the second section where he turned to addressing the different groups in the household, he now addresses two groups in the church: the elders, and then the members of the church. In a moving appeal he humbly exhorts the ‘senior Christians’ to continue with their responsibilities for caring for the different scattered local communities of believers who are facing hostility. Just as he saw Christ suffer, so he and they are witnessing young Christians suffer, but as he has done throughout this letter, he once again reminds them of the future reward. We are to be shepherds, helping the ‘sheep’, willingly, not in order to get money, but eagerly and lovingly. We are to be examples of how to suffer honourably for Christ. Then, when Christ returns, all who serve like this will receive a crown of glory that will never fade away.
5:5 – 7 To the local church members experiencing persecution
In a complementary way, all church members are to serve one another, especially in persecution. Peter emphasises service and humility three times. In times of persecution, life is raw and it is easy to respond by becoming aggressive and angry, but Peter is emphasising the imperative of humility and service. In all the persecution, insults and discrimination, we must practice the Holy Habit of regularly ‘casting all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (v7).
5:8 – 9 To all believers experiencing persecution
Silas’ “Pauline” influence is seen clearly here in this final comment on the spiritual battle that is the context for the persecution that the believers in Western Turkey were experiencing (Ephesians 6:10-20). These short imperatives also resonate with Jesus’ instructions to the Church in the end times (Matthew 24:4,12,42-44). In a battle it is essential to know your enemy and his tactics, to be alert, ready and prepared, and to know how to resist him. Behind the aggression of the local antagonists of not only the local Church but the universal Church is the arch-enemy of the Church who is out to steal, destroy and kill (John 10:10). But he can do nothing unless the Lord allows it for his own greater purpose: the lion cannot get onto the highway of holiness (Isaiah 35:8-10). The devil suffers his greatest defeats every time faithful believers are martyred (Revelation 12:11). It is their loyal testimony that converts the very hardest of hearts (Revelation 11:13).
5:10 – 11 The great promise of restoration
Periods of persecution seem indefinite while the aggression is raging, but the promise is that they are actually short. From 1:6, Peter has described the persecution as ‘for a little while’ (v10). In the context of the big picture of the whole of life, this is true, although it will almost certainly seem to be the opposite at the time. The promise is that God himself will restore us and re-establish those who have suffered. He will make us strong again, but our final goal and reward is the eternal glory we shall experience in God forever (5:1).
5:12 Silas’ help
This explains the clear Pauline influence throughout the letter, even in this sentence (‘Stand firm’ – 1 Corinthians 15:58).
5:13 – 14 Greetings
The cryptic reference ‘she who is in Babylon’ is similar to the final greeting at the end of the little letter of 2 John, and is usually understood to refer to the church in Rome. Mark is Peter’s assistant and the author of ‘The Gospel of Mark’ either very shortly before Peter’s execution, or soon afterwards.
The overall message of the letter of 1 Peter:
In Peter’s first letter he teaches, exhorts and counsels apprentices of Jesus about how we can endure and remain faithful to Christ when we suffer for him.
The leading imperatives:
1) Abstain from all evil and live godly lives
1:13-16 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
2) Fear God and submit to others
1:17-18 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.
2:18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
3:1-2 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
5:5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another
5:6-9 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 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.
3) A lifestyle of love for others
1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
3:8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 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.
4:7-11 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
5:1-3 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
4) How to endure suffering
3:13-17 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
4:1-2 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
4:12-16 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. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Exercise faith: This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1:4-5).
Rejoice: In all this you greatly rejoice (1:6).
Endure suffering so your faith is proved genuine: though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed (1:6-7).
Come to Christ and be built into the temple: As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (2:4).
Called to declare God’s praises: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (2:9).
Suffering unjustly: For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (2:19-21).
The attractiveness of a pure life: Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight (3:3-4).
The strength and blessing of a godly life: For, “Whoever would love life
and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (3:10-12).
Do not participate in sin with others: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you (4:3-4).
Suffer according to God’s will: So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (4:19).
1) Abstain from all evil and live Godly lives.
2) Fear God and submit to others.
3) A lifestyle of love for others.
4) Endure suffering like Christ did.
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
Suffering for being a Christian is an excellent context for learning the spiritual discipline of “submission” to God, to Christ and to one another. This is arguably one of the very hardest ‘Holy Habits’ that an apprentice can learn, but there is a place and time for it in our development in Christ.
Question 1 -
One of the deepest problems people face today, and which we seek help for from psychologists and medical practitioners, is the profound lack of self-confidence, insecurity and insignificance in this world. But in this letter the authors continually affirm our status from God’s perspective. What do they affirm? What are the words and images they use? What can we do to live and shape our lives on the basis of what our heavenly Father says about us?
Question 2 -
Each week in Britain an average of two women are killed in domestic violence and many, many others suffer beatings and different kinds of bullying. If Christians should be among those leading the fight against domestic violence, how should we properly understand Peter’s exhortation that wives should follow Sarah’s example and obey their husbands calling them ‘master’ (3:6)?
A prayer based on 1 Peter
We thank you dear heavenly Father for choosing us, redeeming us through Christ and sanctifying us through the Spirit. We ask that when we suffer for being Christians, we may set our hope fully on the return of Christ, and continue to love each other from the heart and do good to all people, for the glory of your name. Amen.
Commentary on the prayer:
We thank you dear heavenly Father for choosing us, redeeming us through Christ and sanctifying us through the Spirit (1:2). We ask that when we suffer for being Christians (4:16), we may set our hope fully on the return of Christ (1:13), and continue to love each other from the heart (1:22) and do good to all people (2:15, 3:16-17), 4:19), for the glory of your name. Amen.
Suggested Sermon Series on 1 Peter
Series Title: ‘How to Triumph over Suffering’
|1:1 – 13
|‘Focus on our future’||We survive and triumph over suffering by focusing on our future with Christ.|
|1:14 – 2:3
|‘Our lifestyle when suffering’||Not only must we focus on our future hope, but we must live godly and holy lives when we experience suffering.|
|2:4 – 2:10
|‘When you suffer, remember who you are’||When suffering, focus on the hope in front of us, live holy lives, and remember that God has already made us royal priests and he is building us into a magnificent temple.|
|2:11 – 17
Main verse: 2:13
|‘Submission to civil authorities when suffering’||Submission to the civil authorities.|
|2:18 – 3:7
Main verse: 2:20
|‘Suffering for doing good’||Suffering Christians in a non-Christian household.|
|3:8 – 3:20
Main verse: 3:16
|‘The principle of doing good’||Doing good: the call of scripture and the example of Christ.|
|4:1 – 11
Main verse: 4:8
|‘How a church can suffer and grow’||The power of suffering to raise us to a new level in Christ, and the power of corporate spiritual disciplines during suffering.|
|4:12 – 5:14
|‘The suffering and the glory’||4:12-19 is a summary of the main points of 1 Peter. In 5:1-7, Peter instructs both the leaders and the members of the church to be humble. 5:8-9 frames suffering in the context of the spiritual battle, and 5:10-11 gives a majestic promise that relief and restoration will come.|
Question 1 -
How realistic is it for slaves to follow the instructions Peter gives in 2:20-23 in extreme circumstances? Are there limits? Architectural evidence indicates that the institution of slavery varied considerably throughout the Roman Empire with some slaves relatively stable and even well off, and others in truly appalling suffering. What was Peter’s intention, and how does this actually work in practice?