1 Peter 1:1-2
Stephen Caswell © 2000
Suffering Proves Christians To Be Trustworthy
On Sunday, believers arrived at a house church in the Soviet Union in small groups throughout the day so not to arouse the suspicion of KGB informers. They began by singing a hymn quietly. Suddenly, in walked two soldiers with loaded weapons at the ready. One shouted, If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now! Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more. This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ, he ordered, or stay and suffer the consequences. Two more slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with children trembling beside them looked down reassuringly, fully expecting to be gunned down or imprisoned.
The other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, Keep your hands up, but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ. We, too, are Christians. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers. The other soldier interrupted, But, instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted. In his first epistle, Peter wrote to encourage suffering saints to stand firm for Christ.
While there’s life, there’s hope! That ancient Roman saying is still quoted today and, like most adages, it has an element of truth but no guarantee of certainty. It is not the fact of life that determines hope, but the faith of life. A Christian believer has a living hope because his faith and hope are in God. This living hope is the major theme of Peter’s first letter. He is saying to all believers, Be hopeful! Before we study the details of this fascinating letter, let’s get acquainted with some of the background details. Let's take a look at:
I. The Writer II. The Recipients III. The Reason
Firstly The Writer
1 Peter 1:1a Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ
The writer identifies himself as Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. However his given name was Simon. Jesus changed his name to Peter. The name Peter or Petro" in the Greek means stone. Jesus Christ alone is the Rock. It was Peter's testimony concerning Christ's identity as the Son of God that prompted the Lord to explain his new name. This is what Jesus literally said to him at that time. Matthew 16:18 I say unto you, you are Petro", or small stone, and on this petra, or rock face I will build My Church. Jesus Christ is the rock that the church is built upon. Peter was a stone cut from the rock. The Aramaic equivalent of Peter is Cephas.
Nearly fifty times in the New Testament, he is called Simon; and often he is called Simon Peter. Perhaps the two names suggest a Christian’s two natures: an old nature (Simon) that is prone to fail, and a new nature (Peter) that can have victory. The Lord sometimes referred to Peter as Simon when he acted like his old nature. In fact Peter denied His Lord three times after Christ's arrest. However this failure did not mean he was disqualified for good, because he repented and Christ restored him to service again. The same is true today, one failure, or even many doesn't mean that God can't use us again. It's not our ability but our availability.
As Simon, he was only another human piece of clay; but Jesus Christ made a rock out of him! After the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost Peter was a changed man. He testified boldly for the Lord Jesus Christ and eventually died from Him.
b. An Apostle
Peter is also called an Apostle. Apostles were men sent with authority from God. In fact Jesus Christ chose twelve apostles from amongst his disciples. So apostles represented Jesus Christ and delivered the message that He had given to them. They wrote much of the New Testament. Peter and Paul were the two leading apostles in the early church. Paul was assigned especially to minister to the Gentiles, and Peter to the Jews. The Apostles and prophets worked together to lay the foundation of the church as stated in Ephesians 2:20. Once that foundation was laid, they passed off the scene. There are no apostles and prophets in the New Testament sense in the church today. Only one foundation is needed when you construct a building. The same is true of the Church.
Do you feel that you aren't equipped to serve God? Do you struggle with your old nature? Does failure in your past keep you from serving God now? Don't worry you're not alone! Millions of Christians have the same doubts and fears. Even the great Apostle Peter struggled with these things. Pastors and evangelists often struggle too. Past failures can be overcome. We need only confess them to the Lord and ask for His grace. He can enable us to bear fruit. Will you determine to leave the past behind you and serve God now with fresh vigor.
Secondly The Recipients
1 Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
Peter wrote to believers in five regions. This territory encompasses modern day Turkey. The Churches that he wrote to were made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Peter addressed believers with three different titles, Strangers, the Scattered, and the Selected.
Firstly he calls them strangers why? The word stranger parepidhmo" means a sojourner, someone not residing in their own country, but staying a while in a strange place. This word describes how Christians aren't at home in this world. We don't belong here, we are just passing through on our way to heaven. Is this a good way of describing believers? Yes it is! As Christians we shouldn't be storing up treasure here on earth but in heaven.
Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Because Christians are strangers in the world, they are considered strange by the world. 1 Peter 4:4 says this: In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. The people of this world don't understand Christians. They consider them to be strange and out of place on earth. Because of this they speak evil of God's people.
Abraham & Lot
This was the difference between Abraham and Lot. Lot was a believer that stopped living like a stranger. Instead, he became a resident amongst the wicked people of Sodom. As a result Lot and his family were corrupted by sin. When God judged Sodom and Gomorrah he lost everything including most of his family. Lot's family dwelt in Sodom and Sodom got into them. Lot should have followed his uncle Abraham's example.
Hebrews 11:9-10,13-16 By faith Abraham dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. Let us have a loose grip on possessions here and a strong hold upon God, lest we suffer a fate like Lot's.
The second term Peter uses to describe believers is scattered. The word scattered diaspora means to disperse, to scatter, like a sower scattering seed. It was also a technical term used to describe Jews living outside of Palestine. There were Jews at Pentecost from Pontus and Cappadocia, and perhaps they carried the Gospel to their neighboring provinces. Possibly Jewish believers who had been under Peter’s ministry in other places had migrated to towns in these provinces.
Peter calls believers the dispersion because it described how many of them came to be there. Many of them were scattered because of persecution. Acts 8:1,4 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
People were on the move in those days, and dedicated believers shared the Word wherever they went. The important thing for us to know about these scattered strangers is that they were going through a time of suffering and persecution. Some of these Christians were suffering because they were living godly lives and doing what was good and right. Others were suffering reproach for the name of Christ and being railed at by unsaved people. Peter wrote to encourage them to be good witnesses to their persecutors, and to remember that their suffering would lead to glory.
But Peter had another purpose in mind. He knew that a fiery trial was about to begin, official persecution from the Roman Empire. When the church began in Jerusalem, it was looked on as a sect of the traditional Jewish faith. The first Christians were Jews, and they met in the temple precincts. The Roman government took no official action against the Christians since the Jewish religion was accepted and approved. But when it became clear that Christianity was not a sect of Judaism, Rome took official steps to suppress it.
God has always scattered His people through out the earth to bear witness of His salvation. This inevitably involves suffering. Are you suffering because of godly living?
1 Peter 1:2 elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
In verse 2 believers are called elect. The word elect ejklekto" means selected or chosen. We had nothing to do with this, it all began with God: we were chosen by the Father. This took place in the deep counsels of eternity, and we knew nothing about it until it was revealed to us in the Word of God. This selection was not based on anything we had done, because we were not even on the scene. Nor was it based on anything God saw in us. God’s election was based wholly on His grace and love. He predetermined to save us.
But in the same verse we find that God chose according to His foreknowledge. Does God know those who will respond to the Gospel and therefore choose them? Perhaps he does. In the same verse it describes the response God requires of man, obedience. God chose to save us. But he will not save anyone who disobeys the Gospel. The mystery of man's free will and God's election is very deep. We cannot explain it, but we can rejoice in it.
Peter referred to believers as Strangers, Scattered and Selected. Are you living like a traveler just passing through this earth? Are you storing up treasure on earth like Lot or in heaven like Abraham? God has scattered His people amongst non believers to spread the Good News. Are you making the most of your opportunities to witness at work, at home or to your neighbors and friends? God calls us to do this! God has selected you for salvation. Are you rejoicing in it? Are you obeying your Savior?
Thirdly The Reason
1 Peter 5:12 By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand.
a. An Encouragement To Stand Firm
First Peter is a letter of encouragement. Peter wanted to help believers stand firm in difficult times. Christians were being persecuted and this was about to increase. Three themes run through out this letter, Suffering, Glory and Grace.
1. Suffering & Glory
We have noted that the theme of suffering runs throughout the letter, but so also does the theme of glory. At least fifteen times in this letter, Peter referred to suffering; and he used eight different Greek words to do so. Peter refers to glory 13 times in just 5 chapters.
One of the encouragement's that Peter gives suffering saints is the assurance that their suffering will one day be transformed into glory. This is possible only because the Savior suffered for us and then entered into His glory. The sufferings of Christ are mentioned often in this letter. 1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
Peter is preeminently the apostle of hope, as Paul is the apostle of faith and John of love. Hope can be described as desire with expectancy. Hope is the certain knowledge that God will fulfill His Word. As believers, we have a living hope because we trust a living Christ. This hope enables us to keep our minds under control and hope to the end when Jesus shall return. We must not be ashamed of our hope but be ready to explain and defend it. Since suffering brings glory, and because Jesus is coming again, we can indeed be hopeful! God uses our sufferings for our good and His glory. Therefore we must stand fast in them. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 4:17: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
Suffering For Christ
In December 1666, Hugh MacHale, the youngest and most gallant of the Covenanters, was brought to his trial in Edinburgh. He was given four days to live and then marched back to the prison. And in the crowd on the street, many were weeping that one so young and so gallant should have only four days more to see the light of day. But there were no tears in the eyes of this young Gallahad of the faith. Trust in God! he cried to the crowd as he marched past. Trust in God. And then suddenly he saw a friend of his own standing on the edge of the crowd, and he shouted to him, Good news; wonderful good news! I am within four days of enjoying the sight of Jesus, my Savior!
But suffering does not automatically bring glory to God and blessing to God’s people. Some believers have fainted and fallen in times of trial and have brought shame to the name of Christ. It is only when we depend on the grace of God that we can glorify God in times of suffering. Peter also emphasized God’s grace in this letter. I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.
The word grace is used in every chapter of 1 Peter. That's 10 times. Grace is God’s generous favor to undeserving sinners and needy saints. When we depend on God’s grace, we can endure suffering and turn trials into triumphs. In Ephesians 2:8–10 we see that it is grace alone that saves us. But God’s grace can also give us strength in times of trial. Grace enables us to serve God in spite of difficulties. Whatever begins with God’s grace always leads to glory. The trials of Christian life you shall find heavy, but you will find grace will make them light. -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon
The cynical editor and writer H.L. Mencken once defined hope as a pathological belief in the occurrence of the impossible. But that definition does not agree with the New Testament meaning of the word. True Christian hope is more than hope so. It is confident assurance of future glory and blessing.
This confident hope gives us the encouragement and enablement we need for daily living. It does not put us in a rocking chair where we complacently await the return of Jesus Christ. Instead, it puts us in the marketplace, or on the battlefield, where we keep on going when the burdens are heavy and the battles are hard. Hope is not a sedative; it is a shot of adrenaline, a blood transfusion. Like an anchor, our hope in Christ stabilizes us in the storms of life.
Eric Liddell Didn't Quit
Many of you have seen the movie Chariots of Fire. Well, there was a scene in that movie that may have appeared like Hollywood fiction, but it was also true. One year before the pivotal event in the movie, Eric Liddell ran in a meet between England, Ireland and Scotland. He ran the 100, 220, and 440 yard events. In the 440, he got off to a bad start. When that gun sounded, there was a lot of shoving to get in front to the inside lane, the best position.
Liddell tangled feet with J. J. Gillies of England and tumbled to the track. He sat there dazed for a moment, not knowing whether he could get up, when the official screamed, Get up and run! He jumped to his feet and took off after the pack, which was now a full twenty yards ahead of him. In a quarter mile, that's a big distance to try to make up. In his unorthodox style of running he took off after the pack. He pulled into fourth place ten yards behind the leader, J. J. Gillies. With forty yards to go, he pulled into third place, then second. Right at the tape he passed Gillies, stuck his chest out, won the race, and collapsed to the track in total exhaustion. Medical personnel had to assist him off the track that day.
An article appearing the next day in The Scotsman newspaper said, The circumstances in which Liddell won the race made it a performance bordering on the miraculous. Veterans whose memories take them back thirty-five years and in some cases longer in the history of athletics were unanimous in the opinion that Liddell's win in the quarter mile was the greatest track performance they had ever seen. There's something glorious about getting up off the track after you've been knocked down and running again. Win or lose, you mustn't stay down.
Peter encouraged the first century believers that God would one day turn their sufferings into glory. That they should not think it strange that they are suffering. God was allowing it for their good. How do you respond to suffering? Do you recognize that God is testing your faith? Do you keep running your race? Or do you give up in despair? Are you glad because these sufferings can be turned into glory at Christ's return? Do you pray to the Lord for His grace in these trials? That is what God wants us to do. He longs to give us grace so that we can turn our trials into triumphs.
I. The Writer
Firstly, we saw how the writer overcame failure to be mightily used of God. Peter boldly testified for His Lord as he relied upon God's grace. He was an apostle that God used greatly. Have you had to overcome failure and fear to serve God? If you are bound by past failure, will you seek God's forgiveness and grace today? Will you serve zealously Him now?
II. The Recipients
Secondly, we saw the recipients. They were strangers scattered abroad. But God had selected them for salvation. God has chosen to save us too! Are you living as traveler's on this earth, or as residents? Are you sharing your faith where God has placed you?
III. The Reason
Thirdly, Peter wrote to encourage these scattered saints to stand firm in the grace of God. In light of the persecution that started soon after by Emperor Nero this was a fitting word. Believers can stand firm in God's grace because Christ showed us how. He suffered before He entered into His glory. We are to follow His example. Are you prepared to suffer for your faith? Do you suffer at work for being a Christian? The day could soon come when Christians in Australia will have to suffer physically for their faith. God allows suffering to prove that our faith is genuine. Will you determine beforehand to stand firm in God's grace? Let us be faithful to the Lord who suffered for us! Let us depend upon God's grace and turn our suffering into glory at Christ's return!
1 Peter 5:10-11 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.