1 Peter 1:1-2
It’s the first Sunday in 2023 and we are going to be spending some time examining the letter of 1 Peter. It is a letter written to encourage believers who are enduring persecution and suffering for their faith. To properly understand what is written we need to read it against the Jewish background of Peter and the culture at the time in which it was written. “Peter encourages the believers to remain faithful to God and to continue to follow Jesus, even in the face of suffering. He also encourages them to be good examples to those around them, to be kind and loving to others, and to be patient and hopeful in difficult times” (AI 2022). “Throughout the letter, Peter emphasizes the importance of living a godly life and following the example of Jesus. He also encourages the believers to trust in God's plan for their lives and to have hope in the future, knowing that God is in charge and has a purpose for their suffering” (AI 2022). Peter wrote to predominately gentile congregations in what is now modern-day Turkey. If you were not born a Jew, then you are a gentile, a goy. The gentiles had no access to God. They were outside of the Covenant. What we are going to discover is that Peter strives to explain that faith in Christ graphs you into the family of Abraham. “Overall, 1 Peter is a letter of encouragement and guidance for believers who are facing difficult challenges and adversity. It is a reminder that, through faith in Jesus, they can find hope and strength to persevere and live a godly life” (AI 2022). There will be challenges and adversity that you will need the wisdom in 1 Peter to overcome to thrive spiritually.
1 Peter 1:1-2 (NIV)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Peter, whose birth name was Simon, was one of the first disciples chosen by Jesus. The name changes can be confusing. Simon the fisherman, was renamed and given a new identity by Jesus, that name was Kephas (Matthew 16:18-19) which means Rock. When translated from Aramaic to Greek the name becomes Petros, then Petros into English becomes Peter. After the resurrection, Peter’s first assignment was to tell the folks in the Jewish community the good news that Jesus, Yeshua ben Josef, was their Messiah, their promised anointed one who ushers in the Kingdom of God. His second assignment was to preach the good news to the Gentiles. This letter was written sometime between the mid-’60s and early ’70s. That’s AD by the way; about 30 years after the resurrection.
One of the reasons Peter has written these believers is to assure them that even though they are not Jewish by birth they are heirs to the promises of the Jews made by God in the Old Covenant. Peter calls these gentiles “God’s elect” “strangers in the world,” and “scattered.” These descriptions were previously reserved for the people of Israel.
With these descriptions come interesting insights into the nature of the Christian life. To live a Christian life, one needs to be a Christian. Recall that Peter’s first assignment was to the Jews. This is what he said:
Acts 2:14-39 (MSG)
14 That's when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: "… listen carefully and get this story straight.… This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
17 "In the Last Days," God says, "I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: … I'll pour out my Spirit on those who serve me, men and women both… And whoever calls out for help to me, God will be saved."
22 "Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him…
This Jesus, God raised up. And every one of us here is a witness to it. 33 Then, raised to the heights at the right hand of God and receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he poured out the Spirit he had just received. That is what you see and hear…36 "All Israel, then, know this: There's no longer room for doubt—God made him Master and Messiah, this Jesus whom you killed on a cross."
37 Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?"
38 Peter said, "Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites."
According to Peter, to be saved one has to change their life. That change involves giving up your right to rule yourself; giving up your right to do what you want, when you want, to whom you want, regardless of the circumstances; and giving up making your desires, your agenda, the most important in the world, and instead bend the knee to God, vowing to surrender this selfishness and give Him the place of authority to lead, guide, and direct your life for His purposes. God’s purposes are greater than you can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Baptism symbolizes your commitment to living a new life, a God-devoted life. This is a faith turn, you believe the good news of the Gospel, that through faith in Jesus your sins can be forgiven. Sin is anything that deters, damages, or destroys the right relationships in your life. Everything rises and falls on relationships. When a relationship goes bad, you’ve got a mess. Sin creates messes. Some you’ve made, some you had a minor part in creating, and some messes were thrust upon you. Jesus can forgive what you have done, wiping your slate clean of offense before God. A sincere desire is a way you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acknowledge that you need a savior, a savior from the messes in your life. Believe that Jesus is the one who made forgiveness possible, that made reconciliation and restoration possible. Commit yourself, and make a sacred vow before God to change your life. It is this sincere desire that allows God the Holy Spirit to indwell you, and then empower you from within, to change, to live a devout and holy life, to forgive and to love others, and to become the person you are intended to be. To live the Christian life, one has to be a Christian, you’ve received a way to become a Christian, make your decision now, don’t put it off. Yes or no, yeah or nay, regardless of which one, decide right now.
Christians are “God’s elect,” “Strangers in the world,” and “scattered.” This is so descriptive of the Christian life. A Christian has been “called away from their former way of life and allegiances” (1 & 2 Peter, Jude, A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, Daniel G. Powers, p.43). To be God’s elect is to be one of the called-out ones, which makes you a stranger to those who live the way of the world, looking out for number one, doing what advances you and your agenda, with the ends justifying the means. You no longer partake in the value system of the world; you have made Kingdom values your own. Because you are a stranger you are scattered, which means because you belong to God you are barred by the culture from the advantages of the privileged. You are a minority of people. You are at a disadvantage in the worldly systems of government and economics and liberty. “They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners…. The Find themselves in the flesh but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their day on earth but hold citizenship in heaven” (Powers p. 42). This all means that in this world, it’s going to be tough. The Christian is one of the underprivileged and the world will treat you as such. This may be why Jesus warned His disciples to count the cost before they make that commitment to follow Him (Luke 14:28-30).
Christians are “God’s elect,” “Strangers in the world,” and “scattered” “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” The meaning of the word foreknowledge has been so hotly contested that it has created whole denominations. “Denominations are a compromise with the Devil” (H. Ray Dunning). Minor doctrinal understandings caused the unified body of Christ to divide into competitive groups. “Divine foreknowledge does not emphasize God’s ability to know things in advance” (Powers p. 45). If this were so there could be no human free will. What divine foreknowledge means here is that gentiles becoming “God’s elect,” “Strangers in the world,” and “scattered” is all part of God’s plan of reconciling all of humanity to Himself.
There are three important truths hidden in this idea of foreknowledge. First, existing in a right relationship with God is only possible because God desires it. God created humanity in a right relationship; human sin caused an estrangement in that relationship, Jesus atonement makes a reconciliation back into a right relationship possible. Foreknowledge refers to humanity in right relationship with God. Second, and this one is tough, the present situation for Christians in this world is part of that plan. Somehow, the trials, tribulations, challenges, and worldly hostility also fit into God’s plan of reconciliation. We are going to find out how as we read further in this letter. Third, Christians are now so rightly related that even in their unfinished state they can call God Father and know that they are objects of God’s loving, fatherly concern” even during worldly difficulty. (Powers, p. 45). The stuff you are going through, God is not unaware, and as you give it to him, He uses it for the greater good.
Note Peter places this foreknowledge as the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is before the Church developed the doctrine of the Trinity, One God in Three Persons. But here Peter writes, the Father's plan, empowered by the Holy Spirit, made possible by the atoning sacrifice of the Son. We need to draw our attention to this sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit which empowers obedience.
When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit empowers a transformation process that takes you from where you start and ends with you being like Jesus. But this transformation process is not done without your cooperation. Every obedience, however small, hastens this process of growing spiritually, maturing in faith, and becoming a spiritual adult. The sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for you to say no to temptation, this empowerment makes it possible for you to overcome the habits, attachments, and addictions that you picked up before you became a believer. The Holy Spirit will take you as far as you are willing to go. The Spirit reveals Truth and facilitates your conformity to the truth. So there is a moral change, you begin to stop doing things that hinder your relationship with God and start doing things that expedite a more intimate relationship with God. The distance between what you believe and what you do becomes smaller. The power is available, your desire and obedience actualize this power.
The Covenant that God made with Abraham that created a people of God, God’s elect was ratified with the shedding of blood. A covenant is an agreement as to what two parties can expect from one another, this is how we will behave. In Abraham’s case animals were sacrificed to seal the contract. The idea is that breaking this Covenant results in your blood being shed. Peter tells us of a new Covenant. “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood…” This gospel covenant is sealed not with the blood of animals, but rather with the blood of God. The sprinkling with blood sets you apart for special tasks. There is stuff God wants you to do.
When you choose to live in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit then “Grace and peace [is] yours in abundance.”
So what can you take home from this introductory greeting from Peter to these congregations?
You, yourself, yes you, become part of God’s family when you accept, believe, and commit, asking to be saved. You are ingrafted into the family of God (Romans 11:17). Now you are highly favored by God, but as you shine your light, as you love those in your world, those who have refused God’s gracious invitation will hate you. This world is not your home, and you will have many reminders of it. Expect things to be difficult. In this hostile environment, you have a responsibility to obey God’s directives. Obedience transforms you and transforms the world. “Life ceases to be defeat, and begins to be victory, over self and sin and circumstances” (William Barclay, Barclay’s Daily Study Bible).
Time to live in victory.