Read: 1 Peter 1:1-2
The letter of 1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter to churches spread throughout Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). These churches were full of people who had recently become Christians. These new Christians all had something in common – they were all facing suffering, hardship and trials (1:6); they were all surprised at just how hard it was to live out their gospel commitments (4:12), especially in a world that didn’t share their beliefs or way of life. Much of their suffering came as a result of their faith in Jesus and their connection to the church, so they were struggling to hold onto to the hope of the gospel in all they were facing. Peter heard about their struggles and wrote this letter to encourage them and to help them stand firm in the living hope of the gospel (5:12). In his greeting, Peter 1:1-2 introduces the main themes he will develop throughout the letter.
1) The Suffering that Shakes Us (the reason for the letter)
To understand the main message of 1 Peter, we need to know the situation into which he was writing. Here are the words Peter uses throughout the letter to describe the situation his readers were facing: “a fiery ordeal” (4:12), “testing” (4:12), “various trials and grief” (1:6), “suffering” (3:14, 17), “difficulty” (4:18) and a “war of the soul” (2:11). Peter “normalizes” their experience by telling them that what was happening to them was not unusual (4:12). In saying this, Peter gives us the hard, but important truth of what we should expect in life as a normal part of human experience and a normal part of Christian experience. We should expect to face hardship and suffering that shakes us.
Though on one level we all know this, on another level, Christians often live with an expectation that life should be different for us and that God should prevent or lessen our suffering if we live for Him. Because of this, we can be surprised at the reality of suffering (4:12). We wonder, “How can I still be shaken to the core by the suffering of life? I thought my faith was stronger. Maybe God doesn’t love me after all. Maybe I’m not a Christian. Maybe Christianity doesn’t work. Maybe it isn’t true”.
Much of modern western culture is built on the belief (ie, on faith) that we will find a way to eliminate, control or vastly minimize our suffering. This leads us to spend so much of our energy and time on looking for ways we can achieve maximum comfort and full proof security and safety from anything that causes us discomfort, grief or hardship. In a broken and fallen world still awaiting full redemption, this false hope will always lead us to confusion and disappointment. In this letter, Peter gives us a reality that is hard for us to accept, but one that, if we do, can lead us into a true and living hope:
1. The hard reality of 1 Peter: It is our avoidance of, fear of, our refusal to accept, our confusion about, our discouragement from, our getting stuck in suffering, trials, struggles that leads to our lack of gospel joy, holiness, witness. Instead of living in expectation of a suffering-proof life Peter directs us to a better way.
2. The hopeful message of 1 Peter is: because of Jesus we can have great hope that no matter what sufferings, trials or struggles we face, God will lead us further into true joy, genuine holiness and faithful witness.
1) The Hope that Upholds Us (the message of the letter)
Peter isn’t writing to tell his readers, “Life is hard, suck it up and deal with it”. Far from it! He acknowledges how badly our suffering can shake us and he leads us to a hope that no suffering can take from us and that can become even more real to us when we are shaken by suffering. It’s a hope that answers the questions that shake us in our suffering. These questions are addressed by Peter’s greeting in verses 1-2 as he introduces things he will develop throughout the letter:
Where am I? When shaken by suffering, we often feel lost and disoriented. Peter says he is writing for “exiles dispersed abroad”. At first, his readers would have been confused since they were living where they always had. Peter is alluding to the experience of exile for all those who lived by faith in the living God. From Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the Israel in exile in Babylon, to the Jewish people living in the “diaspora” (away from Israel) – people of faith have always had to live “not home”. How does this give us hope? Here’s how - to find living hope, we first have to let go of false hope. We have to first let go of ever being fully at home here. We trust that Jesus’ resurrection is a preview of what is to come: there will be a homecoming for all who trust in Him.
Who am I? When shaken by suffering, we often feel like we lose our identity. If we lose our job, relationships, a person dear to us, our reputation or the acceptance/approval of others, we wonder, “Who am I?”. Peter expands our perspective by grounding us back into an identity given to us in eternity past. All who believe in Jesus are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. This is an identity we didn’t earn. This is an identity we can’t lose. We are sons/daughters of the Father who made and rules over all things. How does this give us hope? Here’s how - in order to discover our true identity, we must shed all our false identities. This always hurts - but it is how God gives us a secure identity that nothing can shake.
Why is this happening? When shaken by suffering, we ask, “Why is this happening?” We search for purpose in it all. While the bible doesn’t answer our “why?” question specifically; it does offer us the comfort of reminding us of God’s great and unshakeable purpose for us in Christ. The final part of this greeting reminds us of this purpose – we are chosen to be sanctified (made holy) and obedient. The purpose God has for us is to become like Jesus. Though we wish there was another way to become like Jesus, Peter says there is only one way to become like Jesus; to know the joy of Jesus, his holiness, bear witness. There is one pattern that God uses to fulfill his purpose in us: suffering to glory.
How does this give us hope? Here’s how – in order to find our true God-given purpose, we will have to let go of all other lesser purposes. God loves his children too much to allow us to settle for a lesser purpose in this life than to find true joy in Him, to develop a genuine holiness in us and to bear witness to Him and his glory.
The final phrase in Peter’s greeting tells us how we can hold to hope when we can’t see what God is doing, we don’t feel any hope and we don’t know how he is at work in our trials. He says we are “sprinkled in his [Jesus’] blood”. This is a reference to how God sealed his covenant promise to Israel (see Exodus 24). It’s the way God says – “I will keep my end of my promise – even at the expense of my life”. The blood of Jesus is our ultimate hope. At the cross God showed us why we can hope even when we are shaken. Jesus left his home to experience exile. Jesus lost his identity as the beloved son when he bore our sins. In the pain of his suffering, Jesus cried out, “Why is this happening?”. He already knew the answer - but it wasn’t easy to see it as he was shaken in his suffering. It was all so he could give us a hope that cannot be shaken – a home eternal with him in the new creation, an identity like his as a beloved child of the Father, a purpose that nothing can thwart. He gave up everything so we would know he will never give up on us.
1. Is there currently something in your life that is shaking you? How are you being shaken by it?
2. Do you agree that much of our western culture is shaped by the belief that we can eliminate and minimize our suffering and hardship? If so, where do you see this? How does it work its way into your expectations about how life should go? How does it affect your response to difficulties (big and small) & your relationships?
3. How do you respond to the idea of being an “exile” who will never be fully at home on earth? How is this hard and frustrating? How might it be to make sense of the experience of never feeling fully settled in life? Is it comforting to you to know there is a true home for you in the new creation? Why or why not?
4. How might it comfort you knowing that in Jesus you have an identity you didn’t earn and you can’t lose that was given to you in eternity past? How might believing this is true help us through the times when it feels like our false “selves” are being stripped and shed? Have you ever experienced what felt like the loss of your identity? How did God (or how is God) take/taking you through this?
5. What is your response to Peter’s teaching that there is only one pattern God uses to make us like Jesus – suffering to glory? Read the final paragraph again. How does the gospel give us a hope we can hold onto even when we can’t see it or feel it?