In our church, we have just completed an eight-week series in 1 Peter. Here are some brief reflections that may be helpful:
1. This epistle is relevant. I know that is not breaking news to you, but it bears underlining. 1 Peter speaks to people that felt like oppressed outsiders in the society in which they lived. It did then, and it does now.
2. Suffering may be necessary. We have lived through decades of relatively little suffering, but times seem to be changing. Suffering is not permanent, “now for a little while.” And suffering may be part of the plan, “if necessary.” In 1 Peter 1:6 we are introduced to the possibility that suffering is not the result of bad luck, but divine providence. As we come towards Easter we have the ultimate example of deliberate and planned suffering.
3. Biblical background helps. There is the situational background of the readers, forcibly moved from Rome and repatriated to these five regions of modern Turkey. There is the historical background of Peter’s life and experience. Keeping that in mind, as he would have done, is helpful to shine a light on his call to be prepared (3:15), to stay humble and to resist the devil (5:6-9), etc. Then there is the textual background of Peter’s biblical awareness as he wrote. For instance, the situation behind Psalm 34 seems to be shining a light on much of Peter’s writing in this epistle.
4. Difficult texts still have simple points. Preaching the end of 1 Peter 3 and the start of 1 Peter 4 is not easy territory to navigate. There is the timing, location and content of Jesus’ preaching in 3:19; then the reference to Noah in 3:20; followed by the awkward reference to baptism in 3:21. It is exegetical difficulty piled on exegetical difficulty. I chose to give some minutes to explain that complexity, but not before I emphasised the simple point of this section: Jesus suffered and Jesus was victorious. It helps to keep a clear picture in mind when trying to make sense of the complex.
5. The letter has a strong DNA. God’s pattern is for suffering now to be followed by glory later. It was true for Jesus, it was true for Peter’s readers then, and it is true for Peter’s readers now. Suffering and then glory: this idea works its way through the entire letter.
6. Variation can help a series work well. We had a team of preachers on this series. One of the messages was preached in first-person. It came in the middle of the series and really helped the series to not feel monotonous in style. Different preachers helped the series, although it was important to make sure we were preaching a coherent series.
7. Non-Suffering forms of Christianity lead to harm. We seem to live between two extremes. One is the fatalistic idea that disaster is coming no matter what. The other is the idealistic idea that we should always be healthy, and wealthy and travel in a private jet. What is the healthy middle ground? It is not a gentle form of health and wealth – that is, things should generally go well for us if we simply trust, pray and obey. Many Christians seem to want to live with their basic orientation towards good circumstances. No, the reality is that we live in a fallen world filled with suffering. So let’s turn from gentle forms of health and wealth, and let’s engage a fallen and sin-marred world with our hope reaching out beyond this suffering to the glory to come. Our hope is not in our experience but in the character of our good God and his plan.
8. 1 Peter should prepare us for difficulty, but stir us to trust! Every problem we face in this world is a problem that exists within creation. 1 Peter urges us to look beyond this realm to the eternal realities. We look outside of this realm to the God who is so much bigger, the God who cares for us. “The dog bit me,” ~ yes, but God is bigger. “But it was a big dog,” ~ so what, God is bigger. “But it was a lion,” ~ it doesn’t matter, God is bigger. “Actually it was a killer whale.” ~ Ok, but God is still bigger than any problem we can face in this realm. What’s more, he already came and suffered, and is now sitting in victory. So we can be humble, be watchful, and be hopeful. We get to stand in the true grace of God whatever may come our way.
There are plenty more thoughts generated by two months in 1 Peter. But hopefully this list is a motivational starter for now…
I have a series of videos on 1 Peter 2:1-10 that focus on the interpretation phase of Bible study. You can find them in this playlist: