All posts by Simon Twist

Study 10 – 1 Peter 5:5-14

She in Babylon sends you greetings

Context

We’ve reached the end of the letter by the apostle Peter to the church scattered in the northern regions of the Mediterranean. He has not addressed the letter to several churches named but to the elect of God dispersed across parts of the world. What binds the readers to gether is their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the hope of grace that comes through him. He has been encouraging Christians to stand firm in their faith despite suffering through persecution in this world. This world is not their home. His letter concludes with the returned theme of encouraging believers across the globe to trust God who is in charge and who cares. In the previous verses, Peter has been specifically addressing the elders of God’s community whose task is to shepherd God’s flock.

Observation

Structure

  • 5:5-6 Humble yourselves
  • 5:7-11 Know where the power and care lies
  • 5:12-14 Greetings from the other scattered saints

5:5-6 Humble yourselves

“In the same way…” Peter has used this same phrase to speak with wives (3:1) and husbands (3:7) and refers to his instruction back in 2:18 to do everything in reverent fear of God. All relationships fall under his headship and it is in reverence to Him that we decide how to treat one another. Slaves to masters, wives to husbands, husbands to wives and now young to elders.

“…you who are younger submit yourselves to your elders.” The word ‘elder’ means whatever the word means in it’s context. In a different context it would refer to people older than you. But following from verses 1-4 speaking directly to the shepherds of the church, this is not about age but about that responsible role of caring for the household of God. The younger, would then be a generic term for those who are not recognised as elders in the church. This generally had a correspondence with age but not necessarily (see 1 Timothy 4:12).

“…submit yourselves…” It is not the responsibility of the elders to squash the church into submission or shame them into obedience or manipulate them into assimilation. It is for the young in the faith to respect to their elders. The message of the kingdom of God is designed to be handed from one person to another and from one generation to the next. Those who have known their LORD longer and know how to handle the word of God ought to be respected and trusted as they teach and exhort others. Church life is truly a community.

“All of you clothe yourselves with humility…” Both elders and younger people, wives and husbands, slaves and masters – the entire household of God are to be humble toward one another. As the younger submit to the elder, as the wife submits to the husband and so on, the outcome is not domination or power plays but humility from everyone toward everyone else in the community.

“Because, God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” Just as submission is given freely out of reverence to God, so too humility is displayed because this pleases God. Humility is not about pretending to know nothing or acting like you are insignificant but about using your gifts, talents and wisdom to serve others and not yourself. Jesus is the ultimate example of humility (Philippians 2:5ff)

“Humble yourselves…under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” This segues nicely between this section and the next. We know that God has the power to elevate us and glorify those worthy of praise and so leave it to him. No matter how good we may feel we are, we are always subordinate in every way to God. But he is no cruel master, as the next verse shows us.

5:7-11 Know where the power and care lies

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Christians do not need to fight for recognition or wealth or anything because we know that God is the giver of all good gifts. Knowing that God is all powerful and that he cares are the two most comforting truths in the bible. He has a mighty hand and he cares for us. Now, anxiety is not a sin but we need to be careful what we do with it. On a biological level, anxiety is that natural reaction to things that threaten us. As humans, we have the capacity to worry about things that are not of immediate danger (like not being ready for an exam or being disliked or afraid of failing). When we have these feelings of worry and deep concern, we have the privilege of taking them to God in prayer. Casting our anxiety on God is like throwing all of our concerns at him and then resting in his promises to do good with our request. Faith is trust. If we trust God then tell him about our worries and keep moving. If you keep worrying, keep talking to God about them. Note that talking to others is helpful and sometimes necessary too so that we indeed get good advice on how to think rationally about things that we may have irrational reactions to. But God’s ear is always the first and ongoing ear to speak with about our worries.

“Be alert and of sober mind.” We heard this phrase in 1:13 and 4:7. With clear heads, set your hope on the grace of Christ and know that the end of all things is near. The reality of the world as we know it in Christ ought to give us clarity to resist the devil and pursue what is right and good.

“Your enemy the devil…” The gospel writers, Moses, and Paul, to name a few, each described the devil as real. He is not the boogeyman.  When Adam and Eve made the mistake of their lives, the devil was talking in their ear. When Job was living a godly and holy life, it was the devil who spoke to God to get permission to cause suffering for him. The devil is not equal with God because he is a created being. But the bible does not show any signs that the devil will repent and come back to God nor that he has the option to.

“…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The image given by Peter is enough to know that the devil is a predator. He is shark-like in his wanderings across the earth (Job 1:6-7). He sought to destroy Eden, he sought to destroy Job, he sought to destroy even Jesus Christ. Anybody who is found without sober judgment with respect to God and His kingdom are easy prey for him. But there is a defense…

“Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” What Satan really desires is for all of humanity to deny God’s rule and promises. For all to regard God as a liar or worship him falsely. But standing firm in the faith – the knowledge of the gospel and the hope that comes through Jesus Christ – is the response to his attacks. All temptation, whether from the world, the flesh or the devil, is to be combatted with resistance. Speak truth to yourself. Pray to God for help and stand firm.

“…because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” No attack from Satan is new. It’s the same old thing. The persecution in this world has the support of the devil.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,” If it is God who has called you 1:1-2, then no power of satan can alter that. Peter is closing his letter with the same themes of calling and grace that he began with. Standing firm in the faith requires remembering who called you, what you have been called to (eternal glory) and what power or proof has been given for this calling (the life, death and resurrection of Christ). Be aware that the devil is on the move but know for sure that God has already won you and paid for you and prepared a place for you in Christ!

“…after you have suffered a little while…” Recall the great theme of suffering that has taken up a large portion of this letter. Suffering is not a sign that God is losing. That is the flavour of life this side of heaven – during this time of testing.

“…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” God himself, not you, not an elder of the church, but God himself will restore you. During times of temptation, stand firm and come to God in prayer – casting your worries on him because he cares for you – he will restore you and give you strength and conviction to stand firm. Next time you become aware of temptation, come to God in prayer and see what happens.

“To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Although Peter tells us about the devil, and about the fiery ordeal of this life but does not want us to lose sight of who is always in control.

5:12-14 Greetings from the other scattered saints

“With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother…” Silas is mentioned often in the book of Acts and referenced in a number of epistles. Acts 15:22. He joined Paul on his journeys. How Silas has helped Peter to write is unclear. Perhaps he was the scribe or perhaps they co-wrote it. The way that Peter starts to conclude his letter though is to encourage the scattered church with news from the church in other parts of the world.

“…encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” There is no other gospel in other parts of the world. There is only one gospel and one truth about God and salvation. There is no such thing as localised truths and communities who manufacture their own beliefs. There is only one truth and Jesus Christ is at the heart of it. Stand firm in that.

“She who is in Babylon…” Although there are different arguments about what this phrase might mean, it seems most likely to match the phrase in Peter’s opening to the letter. He addresses the ‘scattered’ or the ‘temporarily residing abroad’. They are aliens and strangers. The city of Babylon was famous for where the exiled Jews lived for a time. They sat by the waters of Babylon and remembered their homeland. Peter is most likely using this metaphore to refer to the rest of the church (in the feminine) who are also scattered in different parts of the world. It could be specifically Rome but there is nothing to suggest this for certain. Peter is closing his letter to address the Christians scatterd in Asia Minor with encouraging words from the Church or household of God in other locations.

“…chosen together with you…” Peter mentions again that under God there is only one church. God has chosen all of his elect across time and space to belong to his royal priesthood. A Christian in a mega-church in Dallas is no greater than a Christian struggling to be fed in the 3rd world and no different to a saint in Campbelltown.

“…sends you greetings…” Peter’s theme here is to encourage all of God’s elect to stand firm because the people of God, thought scattered, are one in the faith that they stand firm in.

“…and so does my son Mark.” The writer of the second gospel record is also known as a close companion to Peter. (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39). Here he is referred to as Peter’s son although this is a spiritual relationship, not a blood relationship.

“Greet one another with a kiss of love.” While there is suffering and persecution from the outside placed on the church, Peter encourages mutual love and affection. This is a cultural reference to respect one another but the adjective to the kiss is love – not a fake kiss but authentic.

“Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Peter ends the letter addressing the same readers he greeted at the beginning. Not just all who read the letter but all who are in Christ. This phrase, ‘in Christ’ is such a beautifully concise way of signalling that all of our hope, peace, trust, identity, motivation and future is wrapped up in Christ. We are not citizens of this planet but known and proud to be known as Christians.

Meaning

Peter’s final note is for all who are in Christ to stand firm and know that God is more powerful than any enemy we can face. While the dangers of this world are real (even if unseen) our defence against the devil and his attacks is to stand firm in the faith. We can be encouraged that this is the same faith shared across the globe by God’s faithful household. Even in the midst of the worst of humanity, the church of God is there and will survive. More than that, at the right time, God’s elect will be delivered to their eternal glory in Christ. Do not be concerned about the evils of this age, when you know that God cares and his power is above all and forever.

Application

  • Topic A – Helping yourself and the church grow. Peter provides a formula for the younger Christians to submit to the overseers in the church. To the younger, it is wise to submit because there is much to learn in the Christian faith. To the elder, it is important to show wisdom with humility. This is a wonderful formula for church growth and maturity. Do you see where you fit in the process of maturing one another in the faith at church?
  • Topic B – Anxious prayer. We must understand how important prayer is. What causes you worry, concern or anxiety? Do you take it to the LORD in prayer? Read Psalm 55 to hear how the psalmist talks to God and listen for the echoes to 1 Peter. Perhaps you could use this Psalm in your groups to pray together.
  • Topic C – The community of saints across the globe. We can always bring our brothers and sisters in Christ to God in prayer who are scattered across this planet. We are not identified by race, class, culture or denomination but as those who stand firm in the true grace of God. We don’t wear badges. We don’t have a secret handshake. But we call Christ our LORD and Redeemer and we have all been born again into a living hope through the blood of Christ. Do you identify with this community?

 

Prayer of the Week

Lord God, we thank you for your universal church, distinguished by race, gender or class, but set apart by your Son and your call to stand firm in the faith. May we be sober of mind and encourage one another daily while we wait for your kingdom to be revealed. Amen.

Study 9 – 1 Peter 5:1-4

To the elders among you

Context

Peter’s letter has been addressed to all Christians despite their location or walk of life and, as we’ve seen, across the ages. At times, he has addressed slaves and masters directly and he has addressed husbands and wives directly. But the bulk of his letter has been to all who have been called by God to be part of his royal and priestly house of God. Now he turns to people he calls elders.

The definition of an elder is one of those subjects in the churches which creates peaceful division. It is most helpful in areas like this to do some word studies in the bible to compare and contrast what the bible says about elders, deacons, shepherds, overseers, pastors and bishops.

A brief overview of church titles used in the New Testament

Titles for our search Bible references Comments
Elders The gospels and the book of Acts frequently refer to ‘elders of the people’ who confronted or questioned Jesus. Acts 20:17-38; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:1-20; Titus 1:5-6; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1, 5. Revelation frequently refer to the elders around the throne. This is clearly a title to describe those who have some authority in the church. They are not always teachers or preachers (1 Tim 5:17) but have the responsibility of leading the people under their care. An Elder is what you are. It is distinct from a Deacon.
Deacons Romans 16:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8-12; Acts 6:1-7 May be male or female. Distinct from overseers. To be above reproach. The word means servant and the description in Acts 6 matches this title. They were to serve in the church and distribute goods among the needy in the church.
Shepherds Acts 20:17-38; 1 Peter 5:2; Jude 12 A shepherd is an elder. This is implied in the Acts passage and explicit in the 1 Peter passage. An Elder is what you are but a Shepherd, overseer and pastor is what the elder does. He shepherds/pastors and over-sees.
Overseers Acts 20:17-38; Phil 1:1;  1 Tim 3:1-2; Titus 1:7 Manages the household of God.
Pastors Ephesians 4:11 Distinct from apostle, prophet, evangelist and teachers.
Bishops NA Although there is no use of this word in the Scriptures, it has been applied to overseers of churches rather than overseers of people in one church.
Priests Romans 15:16; Hebrews 3:1; While Jesus is our Great High Priest and we have no need for any other mediator between us and God, Paul can describe his duty of proclaiming the gospel as a priestly role. Note that the priests of the Old Covenant were also require to instruct the people (Leviticus 10:11)
CONCLUSIONS There remains 3 major word groups that cover all of these titles:

Priest (used almost never of the Christian church but applied to teaching and preaching the gospel);

Elder (describes those who manage the household of God, caring for the people of God under their care – ‘elder’ is what you are but a shepherd, pastor and overseer is what you do.)

and Deacon (refer to those who serve in the church to free up elders for preaching and teaching and prayer).

 

Observation

Structure

  • 5:1-2a The appeal
  • 5:2b-3 The guidelines
  • 5:4 The real blessing

5:1-2a – The appeal

“To the elders among you…” Acts 20:17ff describes elders as synonymous with overseers and shepherds (and therefore pastors as that is a shepherding term) and their duty is to care (like shepherds over a flock) for the people under their care. The implication in that passage is that they be sure to teach and encourage the church of God about the whole will of God, his kingdom and his grace. The church of Christ is to be lead by local leaders whose responsibility is to teach these things (either personally or ensure that teachers are teaching correctly). As Peter writes to the scattered people of God, he knows that where there are Christians, there will be elders.

“I appeal as a fellow elder…” Although Peter is The Rock and pillar of the early church, he is no more than a fellow elder. His duty is to oversee the spreading of the gospel as left in his charge by Christ (Acts 1:8). Although the word Bishop is not used in the New Testament, the Anglican church would apply Bishop to both Peter and Paul who oversee the overseers of the churches. Peter addresses the elders as one elder to another. He doesn’t flex his muscles like there is any other hierarchy. Christ gave the gospel to the church and all overseers are charged to preach that gospel and no other.

“…and a witness of Christ’s sufferings…” Now Peter distinguishes himself from his readers in that he was there when Christ suffered. He saw it first hand. He’s not like an overseer who has been told historically what went down in and around Jerusalem in the first century. He saw it and was right in the middle of it. The sufferings of Christ had a great testing on Peter himself as the gospels tell us.

“…who also will share in the glory to be revealed.” Peter returns to neutral ground where he can’t claim anything higher than any other Christian.

“…be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” This is the duty and simple rule of the elder – to take care of people who need to know and be reminded and encouraged and corrected by the gospel of God. They are God’s sheep – church leaders must remember that! They are like hired hands charged to watch that no sheep goes astray or is damaged or killed by wild animals. The term ‘shepherds’ is a well-worn description of those who are in charge of God’s people. In the Old Testament, it was the Shepherds of the people of God who were charged of being very bad at their jobs. Instead of directing them to the grace and true worship of God, they lead people to idolatry and took money from them to increase their power. A shepherd does not seek power but seeks to save and protect the sheep under their care. Since they are God’s sheep, how bad will it be if the elders do their jobs poorly.

5:2b-3 – The guidelines

“…watching over them…” Again, the job of an elder is not to manipulate or command or lead brutally but to watch over. Paul teaches Timothy to do this by teaching the word of God faithfully – 2 Timothy 4:2. A shepherd of sheep will lead them in the right direction and will pull them back when they wander off the path and into danger. Pastors do this precisely by directing people to the word of God and instructing people in the truth.

“…not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…” No person is forced into being an elder of a church. And why should a church want to be lead by someone who doesn’t want to be there? But it is God’s desire for elders to be in and over the church. This is his pattern for planting, growing and sustaining churches.

“…not pursuing dishonest gain…” Again, in Acts 20:17ff, Paul describes his approach to being an elder and stated that he never coveted anybodies silver or gold or clothing and recalled Jesus’ words himself that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.” A church ought to put money aside to fund their elders if they can so that the elders can be devoted to ministering in the church but the elder is not to be there for financial reasons and definitely not do pursue selfish gains. Anyone who enters the ministry for financial reasons ought to back out now and find another job.

“…but eager to serve.” In contrast to dishonest gain is the desire to serve others. In what ways ought they serve? That is a broader question than this passage but we have already seen that the primary purpose of the overseer is to point people to Christ and his kingdom through the teaching and preaching of God’s word.

“…not lording it over…but being examples…” I recall that this is Peter writing. Some have declared him to be the first Pope of a certain church. It is baffling to see how the hierarchy of Popes and bishops can be seen as an example to the flock. The Anglican Church must be careful in this area also. An elder is to demonstrate what it looks like to be a Christian – bearing the name of Christ and always ready to give a reason for the hope while living in a world of persecution and suffering. They are to demonstrate what it looks like to turn the other cheek, to love their wives, to pursue doing good and all of that out of reverence to God. If their position is not out of reverence for God, they are disqualified from their job.

5:4 – The real blessing

“And when the Chief Shepherd appears…” This is Christ and Peter again refers to the assured return of the Messiah. If elders in the churches are like shepherds over God’s flock, Jesus is the head of all Shepherds – the ultimate example and the owner of the sheep.

“…you will receive the crown of glory…” Overseers are not to think that their work of service and caring is to go unrewarded. Though they do not seek financial riches in this age, they are promised a prize in the next. The crown of glory is offered, not just to elders, but to all who persevere in the faith till the end (Rev 2:10). Paul declares that his own crown of glory will be those he has lead in the faith (1 Thess 2:19-20). Whatever the metaphor points to, it is a moment of joy and gladness and reward for good and faithful service under God.

“…that will never fade away.” As opposed to the dishonest gain received by bad shepherds.

Meaning

Wherever there are Christians gathered around the world there will be elders who have the responsibility and the joy of taking care of God’s people as we wait for Christ’s return and endure suffering while we wait. The elders are to be like shepherds who protect the sheep in their care. Church leaders must serve at the pleasure of the Chief Shepherd, for eternal rewards and joys and not for dishonest gains found in this world.

Application

    • Topic A – Who should become elders in the church? Peter has outlined motives and responsibilities of elders in the church. Have you wondered if this is something you are gifted for? Who can you identify as elders?

 

  • Topic B – Do you serve because you want to? All ‘servants’ in the church ought to follow the same drive as ministers – to serve God because he/she wants to. It is a true blessing to a church when people step up to share their gifts for the benefit of others – to grow the church – and do it because they want to. There are plenty of jobs that can be rostered but there are so many jobs that only those who are gifted in that area should step into and do. What are your gifts and how can you use those talents for the household of God?
  • Topic C – Working for the church or working for God? Similar to topic B, do you see your participation in the church as helping the church organisation or as working for God. Just because a church exists, doesn’t mean that it is God’s household – if they teach something other than the gospel of the kingdom of God. Once you find a local church (of whatever denomination) that is preaching the gospel and teaching the truth through God’s word, attach yourself to that church and ask how you can work for God in the company of that body of Christ. Is that what you are doing?

 

Prayer of the Week

Protect us we pray, Jesus Christ, Shepherd of our souls, and bless those ministers who serve under you. May they find joy in their service. May they grow in the own maturity and good examples of following you. Protect them from the evil one and the desires of their own flesh. May they pursue godliness and teach those under their care well. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Study 8 – 1 Peter 4:12-19

Those who suffer according to God’s will

Context

Peter, a ‘sent one’ of Jesus Christ, has written to God’s chosen people scattered across the world. His readers are not defined by a specific town or geographic area but by their calling by God to be holy and saved by the blood of Christ. It is their faith that defines their identity, not as part of this world but as part of the hope of grace in Jesus Christ.

His subject matter has turned to suffering in this world and chapter 4 began with the lesson of denying the body and being passionate about serving God. Those who suffer in the body are done with sin. Peter continues the theme of suffering now but in the domain of others inflicting injury or hardship on Christians because of their faith.

Observation

Structure

  • 12-13 Do not be surprised at insult because of the name of Christ
  • 14-16 Be sure your suffering is for the name of Christ and not something else
  • 17-19 The conclusion: Commit yourself to the Sovereign God

12-13 Do not be surprised at insult because of the name of Christ

“Dear friends…” Peter’s warmth is noted at this point. Although he is Peter “The Rock”, he is a fellow believer in Christ and a friend to God’s chosen people. There is no hierarchy in the Christian church (there may be one in the denominational church). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Peter too had “spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do” (4:3).

“…do not be surprised…as though something strange were happening to you.” Peter will now talk to believers about persecution and his starting point is to not think it unusual. It’s like going bushwalking and coming across a snake – you ought not be surprised to find them in the bush. You might not encounter it everywhere or on every trip, but don’t be surprised when one turns up.

“…by the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you…” The ‘fiery ordeal’ brings the imagery of a hot process similar to the refining of metals. Peter is picking up imagery that he introduced back in 1 Peter 1:6-7. Metal is refined by fire and a Christian’s faith will be strengthened through ‘fiery ordeals. It’s not necessary to know the specific events of persecution that were met by the original readers of this letter but we can note that Christianity did not fit neatly into the Greco-Roman culture like it does in our day and age. We live in the Western world that has been greatly influenced by Judo-Christian beliefs and so being a Christians has not been extremely jarring to us. Those days become more and more like history as our culture rejects more and more of the fundamental truths of Christianity and Christian living. There is no doubt that Christianity in the 1st and 2nd century was met with extreme persecution. We ought to remember that there are places in our world today which deal out severe persecution to people of Christian faith.

“But rejoice…” The bible has a knack for giving extraordinary advice even to areas that we think we might know how to respond or think. Anyone who experiences suffering or persecution in this world (ie, everyone) will come up with a worldview to explain it and a method to handle it. Death, for example, is experienced by everybody and so all humans fashion a story to help understand death and therefore know how to respond. Peter has given us the topic of fiery ordeals – or hard situations – and told us not to be surprised. We may agree with him that this is normal and not strange and so what shall we do with this? We should buckle down and find the quickest path to extinguish the flame! No! We should REJOICE! And here is why…

“…inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” This is the qualifier. Peter expands on this in the next verses to compare sufferings that fit a different category but here we are to rejoice in our sufferings when it is because of our faith in Christ. He suffered and if we are suffering due to our identity and walk with Him, then let’s rejoice because that’s authentic.

“…so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” His glory is revealed when Jesus Christ is seen clearly for who he is. His glory was revealed during his earthly ministry through signs and wonders that revealed his identity (John 2:11) and the New Testament writers look forward to a time when his glory is revealed again (Rom 8:18; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1; Revelation 15:4). Peter is asking Christians to see joy in their sufferings now because they follow the suffering Christ and when he returns in glory, we will be overjoyed to share in the glory with him (Rom 8:18). It might be like sticking with a football team during the underdog days because you know that they will have their day and it will be glorious. We Christians know a secret. We know that Christ has won and when he returns he will collect his chosen people who have put their hopes in him and we will be received in glory to share in an inheritance that will never fade. “Blessed are you when people insult you…because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12; compare Luke 6:22-23).

 

14-16 Be sure your suffering is for the name of Christ and not something else

“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed…” The reason behind the insults is important as Peter will go on to expand upon.

“…for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” The nature of the blessing is that the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. This is the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of glory. “The blessing is not in the suffering itself but because the presence of the Spirit of glory and of God is present.” (Jobes). The suffering is not advantages because it has some hidden character building benefits (though Paul indicates this in ) but that God’s presence is evident in the believer. This is a sanctifying work of the Spirit (1:2) not the process of persecution but that the believer is in the position to be persecuted. Christ himself is our role model for suffering and the Spirit of God is our companion through it. We have the same Spirit in us as did rest on the Lord through his ministry (Isaiah  11:2).

“If you suffer…” It should be no surprise to us when suffering comes but note that there is a question of IF we suffer. The conditional phrase could also have the weight of ‘when’ with the condition being on the type of suffering. Is it legitimate Christian suffering? Or is it just plain old human stupidity…

“…it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal…” God himself places governments and authorities in place to cause suffering on such antisocial and illegal behaviour which all of society agree is unacceptable (1 Peter 2:13-14). These crimes listed are punishable under most organised laws. Even the pagans agree on these.

“…or even as a meddler.” This last item is not necessarily a criminal offense but it is also offensive in most cultures. Nobody likes a meddler. Someone who puts his nose in other people’s business. If you suffer for this, don’t claim that as Christian persecution. Some might say that this would be reason why Christians ought not get involved in public debates over morality, law and ethics since this is pushing a Christian opinion into a public space. Except that a democratic society asks for every part of the population to express their opinion. Meddling, though, is not appreciated by anyone. (1 Peter 3:13)

“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” The whole passage needs to be absorbed doesn’t it. This clause on it’s own can be quoted as a badge of honour any time a Christian suffers. But the category is for being unfairly and unreasonably dealt with and in a “fiery”, “suffering” way simply because you stand for Christ. It follows that a Christian who is obnoxiously so can receive persecution on the basis of their character rather than the basis of their faith.

“…do not be ashamed…” This is an important phrase. The Greko-Roman culture of the day was a shame culture. What I mean is that it was important to “save face” in the community and not stand out as different. This is what made being a Christian particularly difficult and attracted persecution. Outcasts were treated harshly as outcasts. When Jesus was put out to die on a cross, this was the most shameful form of execution and punishment. Without knowing anything about Jesus, you would know that he was an absolute outcast from society. So, Peter tells Christians that when they are treated shamefully, not to be ashamed. Their true citizenship and identity is the kingdom of God. Insults from this world should translate as of no significance to a man or woman of the kingdom of God.

“…but praise God that you bear that name.” Further from the last point, rather than being ashamed of who you are, praise God that you carry his name with honour and pride. Nobody loves to be hated. But in a world that could hate Christians, we can be happy to be hated when it is our God and Saviour that we love more than this world.

“…bear that name.” The name, Christian. It is not often in the bible that we find this title. It was a kind of nickname given by outsiders to those who were followers of ‘The Way” (Acts 9:2; 24:14; 11:26; 26:28). It is a name planted on us by outsiders and we can nod our heads with satisfaction that their nickname is accurate. We are Christ-ians first and Australians secondarily. We are also Christians – followers of Jesus Christ – before we are Anglicans, Baptists, puritans, Calvinists etc. It is our love and service of the Lord above all else.

17-19 The conclusion: Commit yourself to the Sovereign God

“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…” The ‘household of God’ phrase picks up the imagery of Christians being living stones of a spiritual house (2:4-5). Paul tells us that brothers and sisters in Christ will all stand before God’s judgment seat in Romans 14:10-12. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that everybody faces death and then after that will face judgment. The Old Testament declares judgment to come over the whole earth and the people of God will not be excluded from this (Jer 25:29; Malachi 3:1-5). The difference that Christ makes is that He will stand in our place as our righteousness (Romans 10:4). All people will be judged according to what they have done (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; Revelation 20:12-13; 22:12). But Christians will be judged righteous and saved from judgment if they call on the name of the Lord Jesus (Romans 10:9, 13; Acts 2:21). But Peter says that the household of God will first pass through judgment and anybody who does not call on the name of the Lord will not be saved. So bearing the name ‘Christian’ is something to praise God for! And rejoice through suffering if it is because you hold dearly to your faith in Christ! But Peter perhaps gives us another way of thinking about persecution in this world as a type of judgment – or testing – on the household of God…see comment on verse 18.

“…what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” This is a rhetorical question. There is only one way to salvation and it is through Jesus Christ. If Christians will also face judgment, there is no back door to God’s kingdom. All will be saved through Christ and all will be judged to hell who are not with him. To disobey the gospel is to reject it. If you disobey a law or rule it is because you reject it (perhaps only momentarily). The gospel is something to be obeyed because it is based on our obedience to God who declares Jesus to be the King. While it is difficult to call yourself a Christian and give a reason for the hope that you have in this world – it will be infinitely worse for anyone who rejects the gospel. Peter wants us to put persecution into that context. Is it better to live an easy life now or hold out for the hope of eternal life?

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Compare Proverbs 11:31). It may be a better reading to view the sufferings Christians attract in this life as part of the judgment of God. The Church is refined by fire and those who stick with Jesus are proved to be his chosen people. Peter isn’t saying it’s hard to be saved because we are sinners but because we are up against pressure to throw Christianity away. He described the ‘fiery ordeals’ of persecution as testing (1 Peter 4:12). Those who crumble at earthly persecution are not his flock. When judgment day comes, the chosen people of God, already tested by fire in this world, will be welcomed in by the Lamb of God. Those who were disobedient to the gospel and rejected Christ in this world will be rejected by Christ and suffer way worse on that day. Jesus talks about the days of tribulation which are cut short for the sake of the elect (Matthew 24:22) and Revelation talks about a time of tribulation. While some theologians see this as a future day of extreme tribulation, I would maintain that the age of tribulation began at the resurrection (or at the cross) and will continue until Christ’s glory is revealed (I would go further and say that all of history has been a test for those who would call on the name of the LORD to be saved (Genesis 4:26)). We who bear the name of Christ are to praise God and bear with the sufferings and fiery ordeals of this age because if it is hard for us to be Christian today, imagine how bad it will be on judgment day for those who deny Christ. God’s judgment, or test on this world begins in the house of God and he will be a better judge and tormentor than this world could ever be.

“…those who suffer according to God’s will…” Again, it is God’s divine decision to have his church suffer. We need to put suffering in the category of God’s will for his saved people rather than a disaster that we must avoid at all costs. This is why the NT writers instruct us to rejoice through trials (James 1). Some Christians will experience worse persecution than others and this may be why Peter says ‘those who’. After perceiving suffering as an act of God’s will, Peter gives helpful instruction on what to do in response.

“…commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” The Christian response is to fight against the natural instinct to defend, or retaliate but to submit to their Creator’s will and continue on the path of doing good to others – even those who are dealing out the persecution (1 Peter 1:14; 2:12, 20, 23; 3:9, 11).

Meaning

It is God’s will that this world dish out persecution and suffering in all forms and that the church of God – the scattered people of God – will receive suffering for their faith. This should not surprise us. Judgment day is coming for all and the church are the first to experience refinement through fiery ordeals. Although it is hard to remain faithful to Christ, it is way easier than what is coming to all who reject the gospel. Remain committed to our Creator and Redeemer.

Application

  • Topic A – Suffering for Christ. Discuss ways you have felt ‘under fire’ because of your faith. How did you react at the time? Would you react differently because of the message from 1 Peter 4?

 

  • Topic B – Proud to bear the name of Christ. It is tempting to withdraw and keep our faith personal and quiet in order to fly under the radar of this world. What are the ramifications of responding to persecution in that way? Consider what Jesus teaches in the parable of Matthew 25:14-30. Or consider what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:13-16. Does God call us to be sheepish sheep?
  • Topic C – The time of tribulation. Peter describes this life as the time of testing for the house of God (1 Peter 4:12) and that judgment comes first to Christians. Read Revelation 7:9-17 to hear what becomes of those who have ‘come out of the great tribulation’. How does it change your attitude to this life to believe that we are now living in the time of tribulation?

 

Prayer of the Week

Mighty God and redeemer, salvation belongs to you who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to you, our God, for ever and ever. Amen.