Faith Under Fire

 

Week of March 6, 2011

 

Bible Verses:1 Peter 1:1-12.

 

Lesson Focus:Peter stressed that regardless of their circumstances, believers have a living hope that cannot be taken away, and they have the resources to continue living holy lives.

 

Living Hope: 1 Peter 1:1-5.

 

[1] Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, [2]according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. [3]Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4]to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5]who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.[ESV]

 

[1-2]The opening greeting is hardly a customary hello. It is theologically rich and densely packed with themes. The letter begins with Peter identifying himself as the author and as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ designated Peter as an authoritative messenger and interpreter of the gospel. Thus the letter does not represent good advice but a binding apostolic word for the church. The letter is addressed to the elect exiles of the dispersion. To speak of his readers as elect means that they have been chosen by God. The word exiles introduces a crucial idea in the letter, that is, that Godís people are pilgrims, sojourners, and strangers on Earth. The church is Godís suffering people, having no place of rest in this world. Believers are exiles because they suffer for their faith in a world that finds their faith offensive and strange. They are not aliens literally; they are sojourners because they are elected by God, because their citizenship is in heaven rather than on earth. Divine election reminds the readers that they have status, not because they are so worthy or noble but because God has bestowed His grace upon them. Hence, they have the energy to counter accepted cultural norms and to live in accord with Godís purpose. Dispersion belongs with the word exiles in that it communicates again that believers are distinct from the world. Peter addressed believers from various areas in Asia Minor, in regions of modern-day Turkey. The three prepositional phrases in verse 2 modify the term elect from verse 1. The word foreknowledge could simply mean that God foresaw whom would be His elect or chosen. No one doubts, of course, that such an idea is included. The question is whether the term means more than this, whether it also includes the idea that God ordains whom would be elect. We should begin by observing the covenantal dimensions of the word. The word ďknowĒ in Hebrew often refers to Godís covenantal love bestowed upon His people [see Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2]. The rich associations of that term continue in the New Testament. That foreordination also is involved is clear from Acts 2:23, where foreknowledge is paired with predestination. Romans 11:2 drives us in the same direction. Paul queries whether God has rejected his people whom he foreknew. The terms rejected and foreknew function as antonyms. We could rephrase the verse, ďHas God rejected his people whom he chose?Ē Paul wondered if God had set aside Israel, upon whom He had set His covenantal favor. The same notion informs Romans 8:29, where we see that God has foreknown those whom He predestined. God foreknew people, not objects or things. He has set His love upon them. Probably the most important verse for Peter is 1 Peter 1:20, where it says that Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world. Peter was not merely saying that God foresaw when Christ would come, though that is part of his meaning. He was also saying that God foreordained when Christ would come. Indeed, God had to plan when He would come since Christ was sent by God. Christís coming hardly depends on human choices. Therefore, when Peter said that believers are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, he emphasized Godís sovereignty and initiative in salvation. Believers are elect because God the Father has set His covenantal affection upon them. The second prepositional phrase, in the sanctification of the Spirit, also modifies elect. Not only does God the Father foreknow whom the elect will be, but the Spirit is the source of their sanctification. Sanctification often refers to the progressive growth of holiness in the lives of Christians. In this context, however, the focus is on conversion. Peter explained how believers came to be part of Godís elect people. When believers are converted, they become Godís holy and set-apart people. As the gospel is proclaimed, the Spirit sanctifies some by bringing them to faith, by bringing them into the realm of the holy. The foreknowing work of God and the sanctifying action of the Spirit result in human obedience and the sprinkling of Christís blood. Two different sides of conversion are contemplated Ė the believersí obedience to the gospel and Christís cleansing and forgiveness. To what does the sprinkling of blood refer? Exodus 24:3-8 is probably the background to this passage. The Exodus passage speaks of the sprinkling of the blood when the covenant with Moses was inaugurated. The covenant is inaugurated with sacrifices in which blood is shed and sprinkled on the altar. The people pledge obedience to the God of the covenant. The promise to obey matches the obedience Peter noted earlier in verse 2. The blood of the covenant signifies the forgiveness and cleansing the people needed to stand in right relation with God. We see, then, that entrance into the covenant has two dimensions: the obedient response to the gospel and the sprinkling of blood. Similarly, Godís work of foreknowing and the Spiritís work of sanctifying introduce the readers into Godís new covenant. The opening of the letter concludes with a prayer wish. The message Peter proclaimed is one of grace, and he prayed that this grace would be the portion for his readers. Peter not only prayed for the dispensing of Godís grace but also the bestowal of His peace. Godís peace is a result of His grace and signifies the holistic sense of well-being that belongs to those who are in a right relation with God. Peter prayed that both grace and peace would be multiplied in the lives of his readers, asking God to fill them with His grace and peace. We should also note in the verse the reference to the Father, Spirit, and the Son. The Father foreknows, the Spirit sanctifies, and the Son cleanses.

 

[3-5]God is to be blessed and praised for the salvation He has given to believers. The reason God is to be praised is that he has caused us to be born again. The focus is on Godís initiative in producing new life. No one takes any credit for being born. It is something that happens to us. This new birth is according to his great mercy, which is the cause or reason for our new life. Believers deserve judgment and wrath, but God is a God of mercy and grace, bestowing life upon those who are opposed to Him [cf. Eph. 2:4-5]. The goal or result of Godís begetting is now explained with the first of three clauses. In verse 3 Peter mentions the living hope of believers, in verse 4 their inheritance, and in verse 5 their salvation. A living hope is one that is genuine and vital, in contrast to a hope that is empty and vain. The focus, of course, is on the word hope itself. Those who are suffering persecution in Asia Minor are not dashed to the ground by their troubles. They look to the future with the sure confidence that inestimable blessing awaits them. Their hope is the hope of resurrection, triumph over death; hence, whatever happens to them in this world is trivial compared to the blessing of the future resurrection. The future hope of believers is now described more fully. Peter selects the language of inheritance to describe what is in store for Christians. This inheritance can never perish or be corrupted. The inheritance will not lose its luster and beauty. It will never become stained or filthy. Finally, the inheritance will never fade; it will last forever. The verse concludes with the promise that the inheritance is kept in heaven for you. God is the one who reserves or keeps the inheritance for believers. Now in verse 5 Peter describes the inheritance in terms of salvation which can be defined as being rescued from Godís judgment or wrath on the last day [1 Peter 4:17]. Peter assured his readers that they will certainly receive this inheritance, that future salvation will be theirs. The reason for this confidence is that they are being guarded by Godís power. How does God protect believers? We know from the following verses that He does not exempt them from persecution or suffering. Believers may suffer agonizing pain, both physical and psychological, because of their faith. Peter must have meant that God preserves believers so that they will receive their final inheritance and experience the joy of eschatological salvation. The text does not merely say, however, that believers are protected by God to receive salvation. Peter added that believers are protected through faith. Obtaining the final inheritance therefore does not bypass human beings, as if we are mere automatons in the process. Believers must exercise faith to receive final salvation. Faith here is continuing trust or faithfulness. Peter did not conceive of faith as a single isolated act; genuine faith persists until the day of redemption. But if receiving the inheritance is dependent upon human faith, is it possible that some will fall short and be judged rather than saved? There is no final salvation apart from continued faith, and thus faith is a condition for obtaining the eschatological inheritance. It is imperative to understand that Godís protection cannot be kept in a separate compartment from our believing. All of 1 Peter clarifies that we are not exempted from suffering or even death because of the power of God since the church experiences persecution. Godís power does not shield believers from trials and sufferings, but it does protect us from that which would cause us to fall away. What would prevent us from maintaining our allegiance to Christ until the end? Surely the answer is sin, and we know that sin stems from unbelief Ė in failing to hope in God during our earthly sojourn. Godís power, to be effective at all, must guard us from sin and unbelief. If Godís power does not protect us from unbelief, it is hard to see what it does. How is God protecting us until the end if His guarding plays no role in our continuing faith? We are suggesting that 1 Peter 1:5 contains a glorious promise. Godís power protects us because His power is the means by which our faith is sustained. The ultimate reason for our preservation must be Godís gift rather than our faith since otherwise the reference to Godís power is unnecessary and provides no assurance to the believer. Thus the function of this verse is to encourage believers with the truth that God will preserve their faith through sufferings and the vicissitudes of life. Faith and hope are ultimately gifts of God, and He fortifies believers so that they persist in faith and hope until the day that they obtain the eschatological inheritance.

 

Unshakable Faith: 1 Peter 1:6-9.

 

[6]In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, [7]so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [8]Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

[9]obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.[ESV]

 

[6-7]The main theme in verses 3-5 is that believers should praise God because of the certainty of their eschatological hope. The thought shifts slightly in verses 6-9. Now Peter focuses on the joy and love that fills the lives of believers, even though they are suffering. They are joyful because suffering is the pathway to a godliness that passes the test on the last day [7], because suffering results in eschatological salvation [9]. The phrase In this reaches back to the entire content of verses 3-5, focusing on the eschatological hope of believers. They rejoice now because of the inheritance that most certainly awaits them. The suffering in which Peterís readers are to rejoice is still painful but it is valuable due to the benefits it brings. Believers rejoice despite suffering because they know that it will not persist forever. When Peter said a little while, he was not promising that suffering on this earth will be brief. The difficulty is brief when compared to future glory, but it may endure for a lifetime. The diverse nature of the suffering is conveyed in the phrase various trials. Peter added the interesting phrase if necessary. The idea is that the sufferings believers experience are not the result of fate or impersonal forces of nature. They are the will of God for believers. The New Testament regularly sees sufferings as the road believers must travel to enter into Godís kingdom. We should not deduce from this that sufferings are somehow enjoyable or that a specific reason should be assigned to each suffering; nor should we minimize the evil actions of others in inflicting suffering. Peter assured his readers, however, that God is working out His plan even in their anguish. Why is it Godís plan for Christians to suffer? Verse 7 provides the reason. Sufferings function as the crucible for faith. They test the genuineness of faith, revealing whether or not faith is authentic. If faith proves to be real, the believer will receive praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ returns. Again we see the indissoluble connection between faith and faithfulness. Those who truly believe will persist in their faith, continuing to trust in God when difficulties occur. Life as aliens is anything but easy, and yet by Godís grace the lives of believers are filled with joy, not gloomy moaning. The focus here is on the value of genuine faith in Godís sight on the day of judgment. The words may be found refer to the final judgment when God examines the life of each person. Praise and glory and honor are given on that day to the person whose faith has been tested and approved by fire. Thus God brings sufferings into the lives of believers to purify their faith and to demonstrate its genuineness.

 

[8-9]Verse 7 concludes with the hope that animates believers Ė the revelation of Jesus Christ, His appearance at His second coming. Christ will be seen by all, and yet those to whom Peter wrote have never seen Him. But they love Him. Their sufferings have not made them morose and miserable. They are filled with love for Jesus Christ. He is precious and lovely to them. The believers have never seen the Lord Jesus, nor do they see Him now. Nevertheless, they believe in Him. Believing is not based on seeing. Seeing will be their portion at the revelation of Jesus Christ. In the meantime the Christian life is marked by believing. The main thought in this clause emerges with the verb rejoice repeated from verse 6. Believers rejoice and exult in Jesus Christ, even though they do not see Him now. The joy believers experience is a taste of heaven, an anticipation of the end, because it is inexpressible and filled with glory. Peterís main point in this verse is clear. Believers who suffer are not dashed to the ground by their troubles. They love Jesus Christ and rejoice in Him, even though they have never seen Him and do not see Him now. Their lives are characterized by a hope that fills the present with love and joy. The main idea of the verse is that the love and joy of believers is rooted in the hope of eschatological salvation. They know, therefore, that despite present sufferings they will see Jesus Christ when He is revealed and enjoy Him forever.

 

Glorious Grace: 1 Peter 1:10-12.

 

[10]Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, [11]inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. [12]It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.[ESV]

 

The link between verses 9 and 10 is the term salvation. The salvation believers experience now, which will be consummated in the future, was also prophesied in the past. Believers in Christ represent the fulfillment of prophecy. They enjoy the great privilege of living in the days when the history of salvation is being fulfilled. The prophets searched and inquired carefully into this salvation. The two verbs should be interpreted together, indicating how ardently the prophets investigated the salvation about which they prophesied. Their prophecies were inspired by the Spirit of Christ, showing that their words are authoritative and accurate. The same Spirit that inspired the prophets also speaks authoritatively through the gospel. Peterís point was that the prophets predicted these matters but did not know when they would be fulfilled, and they hoped upon hope that they would be fulfilled in their days. What the prophets desired to know fervently was the person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating. They were seeking the time and circumstances surrounding the coming of Christ and His predicted sufferings and subsequent glories. The sufferings point to the Cross and His glories refer to His resurrection and triumph over evil powers. Old Testament prophets longed to see and experience the fulfillment of what they prophesied. But God revealed to them that their ministry of prophecy and foretelling would not be realized in their day. Their ministry was not ultimately directed to themselves or their own generation but to all those who live on the other side of the death and resurrection of Christ. What the prophets foretold has now been announced to believers through those who proclaimed the gospel. A distinction is drawn between the prophets who anticipated and predicted the coming of the gospel and those who have now actually proclaimed the fulfillment of the gospel to the believers in Asia Minor. Both are inspired by the Spirit. We have an early indication here of the authority of the New Testament message, for the proclamation of the gospel is on the same level as the prophecies of the Old Testament. Indeed, the gospel fulfills what is found in the Old Testament, and in that sense the prophetic character of the Old Testament can only be grasped in light of the fulfillment now realized in Jesus Christ. Peterís main point throughout is that believers in Jesus Christ are incredibly blessed to live in the time when the predictions of the prophets have come to pass. Believers also stand in contrast to the angels, for they also long to glance at and reflect upon these truths. The point is that angels reflect with delight on Godís saving actions. More specifically, angels do not experience the gospel in the same way as human beings since they are not the recipients of redemption. Again, the privilege of enjoying and anticipating salvation comes to the forefront. Old Testament prophets saw it from afar, and angels also marvel when gazing upon what God has done in Christ, while the Petrine readers actually experience it.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† Why does Peter call believers elect exiles? Do you consider yourself an exile in todayís world? What three things does Peter tell us in verse 2 about the meaning of Godís election?

 

2.†††††††† In 1:3-5, Peter writes that God should be blessed and praised for the salvation He has given to believers. What does Peter say about Godís great salvation in these verses?

 

3.†††††††† What is Peterís focus in 1:6-9? Why does Peter encourage believers to rejoice even in the midst of suffering?

 

References:

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, ECNT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, Broadman.