For reasons that escape me now, I Peter was the first book of the Bible I decided to preach through as a 22-year-old in my first pastorate. I had graduated with a college degree in history with zero preparation for leading a church or preparing and delivering sermons.
It would be interesting to know why any first-time pastor chooses a particular book as his first to preach through.
My guess is it had to do with all the fascinating concepts the Apostle Peter addresses in the opening chapter: our chosenness, our inheritance, our living hope, secure faith, continuing love. But, just as likely, it was the solidness of Peter’s tributes to the precious blood of Jesus and word of God in this first chapter.
The problem in preaching verse by verse over an extended period is that we tend to lose the big picture. A pastor friend once spent two years preaching through I John. I thought then and think now that must have been excruciating to his members. How they must have longed for a sermon from the life of Jesus or one of the famous Old Testament stories. Surely, the pastor filled out their diet with some variety now and then, but I seem to recall he didn’t.
Google a destination on the internet and you’ll find the map has a feature allowing you to zoom in and zoom out. You can locate the street address, but you can also back off and see where you’re going in relation to other cities and states.
It’s good to do that in Bible study sometime. Let’s do that just now with the first chapter of I Peter.
Peter to his weary audience: “You’re having a tough time of it just now. The world is coming at you from every side. You are being persecuted and harassed for no other reason than that you are following Jesus, the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“You’re wondering where is God, why this is happening, why you of all people, what good can possibly come from all this, and what God wants you to do now.”
Briefly, here is Peter’s response.
HERETOFORE… (I Peter 1:1-12)
1. You are chosen, even if you feel rejected at the moment.
You not only feel like aliens and outcasts, you actually are. You are “strangers to this world.”
It’s no wonder. Everything is different for you now. You have literally–not figuratively or symbolically–been born again. You are different.
As Paul said, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Peter uses terms the Old Testament applies to the Jews and makes them apply to Christ’s followers. Later, in chapter 2, he delivers quite a list, but nothing is more satisfying and encouraging to his audience than to say, “You are chosen.”
My wife and I have a “chosen” child, adopted from Korea, nearly 36 years ago. Our two sons, born to us, are just as chosen and beloved, although differently. While we did not visit Seoul where our daughter experienced the first five years of life, friends who have traveled to orphanages in the Ukraine or other countries testify to the heavy weight they feel in choosing one or two children and walking away from the hundreds of others.
It must be exhilarating to feel chosen. It should. All who are in Christ Jesus are chosen.
2. You are heirs of an incredible future even if your “present” is difficult.
Some were being executed in the prime of their lives. Families were being hounded and broken up. The enemy was calling the shots, it seemed, in the driver’s seat.
Not so. God was and is still on His throne, still at work, still redeeming all who turn to Him in faith, still using these circumstances, and still welcoming His beloved martyrs into His presence.
This world is not all there is. Eventually, believers will see it was only a tiny prelude. To be cut down before one has begun to live seems to us the greatest injustice. A million years from now in heaven, it will be a dim memory.
People who study these things tell us the hope of heaven burns brightest in believers who are rejected by the world. When the world likes us and we prosper in its system, we drift from thoughts and expectations of “the Father’s house” and become too invested in this world to want to leave it.
Only as we grow older and see so many of our loved ones disappearing from the scene do thoughts of heaven return. Many a Christian has told me at funerals, “Heaven just became dearer to me.”
Heaven should be dear to us at all times. It gives solid balance to our work, a glorious outcome to our faith, and a satisfying lift to our attitude.
If your church is using only modern gospel songs and choruses, you might find it instructive to get an old hymnal down and notice an unusual trait: the last verse of the venerable hymns almost always pointed to heaven. These tunes we sing today–many of them wonderful, don’t get me wrong–have lost that.
3. You can rejoice because God is using this.
In a store the other day, a new book caught my attention. The author stated on the front cover that the major failing of Christianity is that it (i.e., the Bible) never addresses the greatest question of the ages: suffering.
How foolish. The Bible addresses it from one end to the other. What the writer should have said is that it doesn’t address it to his satisfaction.
Nowhere does Scripture give us a one, two, three, explanation of why God allows suffering in this world, to believers as well as to everyone else. However, as countless less-impatient writers have pointed out over the years, God’s Word does not leave this subject unaddressed.
If you omit stating that “This is a fallen world” as the second tenet in your philosophy of suffering, you will quickly get lost. (The first? “God created the world.”)
Plenty of things happen in this world not according to God’s plan. He is not their author, but He uses them for His purposes.
Learn to rejoice in suffering.
Easily said; hard to do.
That advice comes from one who knew whereof he spoke. The Apostle Peter would soon die on a cross upside down.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2) Why? Because, James, the early Christian leader, went on to say, the testing of your faith produces a long litany of Christian virtues in your character.
There are plenty of other reasons to rejoice in suffering.
In Matthew 10, Jesus told His followers that the Lord would allow His servants to be arrested so they could preach the gospel to judges and princes who otherwise would not hear. (Matthew 10:18)
The Lord allowed Paul and Silas to be arrested and beaten so they would be thrown into the Philippian jail and bear witness for Jesus there. (Acts 16:25)
Many a believer has found that having a loved one in the hospital gave them the unexpected opportunity of witnessing to other patients, their families, and the medical staff.
Be real certain when you start following Jesus. He takes seriously your commitment and interprets it as a willingness to follow Him, wherever He leads. And that path is not always by still waters and green pastures. Sometimes it leads through valleys of shadows of death.
In every case, rejoice. “Our momentary light affliction is working for us an exceeding weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (II Corinthians 4:17)
4. Consider yourself blessed–
a. You are the beneficiary of the prophets’ promises. (I Peter 1:10-12)
b. You are the envy of Heaven’s angels. (I Peter 1:12)
c. You are the successors of the Old Testament’s saints. (Hebrews 11, particularly the last few verses)
(An English teacher would hand this back to me at this point and say, “Your essay is uneven. You went to great lengths on the other points and only gave the bare outline for number 4.” True enough. But it speaks for itself and needs no more elaboration.)
THEREFORE…. (Chapter 1:13-25)
On the basis of the world’s harassment, your chosenness, God’s incredible future awaiting you, and your commitment to Christ, here is “how you are to live in this present world” (a line borrowed from Titus 2:12).
This chapter, you notice, divides evenly right down the middle: the first 12 verses establishing our situation regarding this world and the world to come, and the remaining 13 verses speaking of how we are to conduct ourselves in the meantime.
1. Keep your helmet on.
“Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled.” (I Peter 1:13)
Bill Glass, former all-pro defensive end for the Cleveland Browns, says his father gave him some good advice in junior high school: In a football game, keep your helmet on. When the coach looks for someone to send in for the next play, he needs someone who is ready to go.
That is the modern-day equivalent of: “gird up your loins,” a line that made sense to first-century believers, but no longer to us.
Stay ready for action. Don’t let your guard down. You’re on stage now, in the spotlight, the cameras are running. The starting gun has sounded. The referee has not blown this play dead. (The metaphors are endless.)
What you do now has eternal consequences.
2. Keep your spirits up.
“Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter 1:13)
The football game is winding down and the television cameras pan to the losers’ bench. Look at them there, their heads hanging low, their chins bumping the ground, an occasional tear. Their very posture shouts, “We are losing!”
We must have none of that. “We are more than conquerors!” (Romans 8:37)
You either believe or you don’t. If you do, there is no place for the hang-dog sad expression that bemoans what this world is coming to. You are a child of the King, and rejoicing about “Who is coming to this world.”
No moping allowed, Christian.
3. Live like you belong to Jesus Christ.
“Be holy.” That’s another way of saying, “Be His.” He is holy, so you and I are expected to be like Him.
The terms “holy” and “sanctified” mean something is unlike everything else, that it is “set apart.” We are not to conform to this world, but to be transformed. (See Romans 12:2)
4. Be faithful.
“Live your lives here as strangers in reverent fear.” (I Peter 1:17)
We must live in a God-conscious state. He is ever with you, He has great expectations concerning this moment you are living, He plans to use you if you are usable, and it will soon be over. Get through it, but do it well.
Why should we be faithful? Consider these three great reasons:
a) We are redeemed with His precious blood (the cross of Christ). v. 19
b) We are established in our precious faith. v. 21
c) We are saved through the precious seed (the Word of God). vs. 23
I love paraphrases of Scripture for one big reason: they help me keep the big picture in mind. Word studies are great, and commentaries are essential, but sometimes it helps to back off and see the complete message.
Here are portions of Eugene Peterson’s take on I Peter 1:13 and following. It’s worth reading and enjoying.
“So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives.
“Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now.
“As obedient children, let yourself be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness….
“You call out to God for help and he helps–he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living…..
“It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know.”
(If you don’t own a copy of The Message, get one. Do not make it the basis of your detailed study, but use it for the big picture.)
Blazing with holiness.
Wow. I love that. A good one to end on.