Introduction to 1 Peter
Passage: 1 Peter 1:1-2
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that I planned to begin a study of 1 Peter once I finished my last series. I’m very excited about studying this book, which has had a profound impact on my life. My senior year of college, I set a goal of memorizing 1 Peter. I didn’t reach my goal, but I did memorize the first two chapters. However, don’t ask me to quote it now because that was a long time ago. I spent a lot of time rehearsing these chapters, and it was an impacting study. As well, there are shorter sections of this book that God has used at various times to impact my life. Chapter 1:3–9 is a powerful section on the glory of the gospel and the strength it gives during uncertain times. God has used 1:13–16 to challenge me regarding holiness and about the proper motivation for holiness. As well, I’ve been challenged many times by 2:21–25, which reflects on the example of submission that Christ set. He didn’t lash out in anger when he was mistreated, and Peter calls us to follow his example. This book offers some very practical help for Christian living, which has benefitted me. I’ve been challenged to forgive by the statement in 4:8 that “love will cover a multitude of sins.” As well, 5:5 is always a challenge to consider when it says “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” And 5:8 is also a challenging verse to remember. These are a few highlights, but there are many other ways that the Lord has used this book to impact my view of God, my appreciation of salvation, and my efforts to live the Christian life. And I would imagine that many of you could also share different ways that God has used 1 Peter to impact your walk with the Lord. I pray that as we study it together over the next few months, that God will use his Word to mature us together into greater godliness.
This morning, I would like to begin our study by considering 1 Peter 1:1–2. This text provides a good springboard for me to introduce the book, but it also provides an encouraging window into the greatness of our salvation and into God’s continued work in his people.
I’d like to use v. 1 as an…
Introduction to 1 Peter (v. 1):
Peter begins by introducing us to himself as…
Peter’s Background: If you have spent much time in church, you are probably familiar with Peter. He was a fisherman from Galilee, and his brother Andrew first introduced him to Jesus. Peter was an outspoken man who did done everything at 120% effort. This characteristic got him in trouble a number of times when he was young, but it also helped him become a powerful leader. Peter became the leader of the apostles and the first spokesman for the church. The Gospels record several significant conversations between Jesus and Peter, and he is the central figure in Acts 1–12.
Peter’s Ministry after Acts 12: After Acts 12, the Scriptures don’t tell us a lot about Peter’s continued ministry. It’s possible that Peter spent time working among the recipients of this book though he may not have. But we do know with a high degree of certainty that Peter eventually made it to Rome, where he wrote 1, 2 Peter and was eventually executed by Nero.
Place of Writing: The reason we believe Peter wrote from Rome is the statement in 5:13 that those in Babylon who were with Peter sent greetings to the readers. There’s no way Peter wrote from the actual Babylon because it was in ruins at this point, and there is no evidence Peter ministered in that region. Rather, “Babylon” naturally refers to Rome, and this reference highlighted the city’s luxury, power, and wickedness that paralleled that of Babylon. That Paul wrote from Rome fits with the fact that 5:12 mentions Silas, and v. 13 mentions Mark. Silas was Paul’s travelling companion, and we know that Paul was in Rome during the same basic period. As well, in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul asked Timothy to bring Mark with him when he came to visit Paul in Rome during the same basic time period. Finally, we know Peter was in Rome because the church fathers indicate that Nero executed Peter in Rome during the 60s. Very likely he was executed shortly after Paul and shortly after he wrote 2 Peter.
Authorship: Until the relatively recent past, no one questioned that Peter wrote this epistle. The church fathers all believed Peter was the author. However, liberal scholars today have argued against Petrine authorship primarily because the Greek in 1 Peter is among the best in the NT, and they argue that a fisherman from Galilee couldn’t have possibly been so skilled in Greek. Acts 4:13 states the Sanhedrin discerned that Peter and John were “uneducated and untrained.” Furthermore, 2 Peter doesn’t have nearly the same quality of Greek as 1 Peter. They say that there’s no way the same man could have written both books. In response, it should be noted that the Sanhedrin’s evaluation was probably in regards to Peter and John’s training in the Law, not their grammar education. As well, 1 Peter 5:12 indicates that Silas played at least some role in developing the final form of the letter. If Silas were skilled in Greek, he could have helped shape the grammar of the book.
In sum, the apostle Peter wrote this book, and since Silas and John Mark were with him in Rome, he probably wrote the book in the mid-60s around the time Nero executed Paul.
Our text goes on to tell us who the readers were.
Locations: Verse 1 mentions five regions. As you can see on the map, these names make up four provinces in Asia Minor, or what is modern Turkey. Pontus and Bithynia were a single province. This is a very large area, and most scholars think that the regions are listed in the order a courier would deliver the epistle to each region. Because 1 Peter was written to a number of churches, it is more general than say, Galatians or the Corinthian epistles, which are focused on addressing pretty specific problems in a particular church. This epistle is what we would call a circular epistle, which was intended to be read in many churches, not just one. It’s possible that Peter ministered in these areas, and knew many of these Christians, but there’s no indication in the letter that Peter had a close relationship with them. It may be that he simply heard reports about the difficulties they were facing and decided to send them a letter.
Gentiles: Verse 1 also calls the readers “pilgrims of the Dispersion.” The word “Dispersion” or “Diaspora” was used by the Jews to refer to Jews who lived outside Palestine. Of course the hope of all Jews was to one day return to Palestine; therefore, the Jews who lived outside Palestine considered themselves to be exiles, pilgrims, or aliens who were not living in their true home. Peter transfers this idea to his Gentile audience. We know that they were mostly Gentiles because Peter references several times their ignorance of God and pagan history before conversion. These Gentiles were not aliens in the sense that they were living outside of their physical homeland as the Jews of the Diaspora were, but they were aliens in that their true home was not in this world but with God in heaven. As we will see, this idea plays an important role in the argument of the book. Our home as Christians is not on earth, and this fact must shape our values and gives us encouragement in the face of suffering. We have something more to look forward to.
Suffering: Peter describes the readers as exiles because they felt like exiles. Peter repeatedly references the persecution they were enduring. This persecution wasn’t coming down from the emperor, as empire-wide persecution of Christians didn’t begin until the close of the first century. Rather, they were enduring the kind of local persecution Paul faced many places. The exclusive claims of Christianity, that there is one God and one way of salvation didn’t sit well with polytheism, and the Roman disdain of proselytizing. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Because of that, Christians were widely hated and faced persecution.
Occasion/Purpose: In light of that, the primary purpose of 1 Peter is to encourage the readers to stand fast in the face of suffering. Primarily, they were to do so by remembering that our hope is not in this world but the next. Because of that, they must not compromise their faith and try to fit in with a worldly culture. Rather they must remain holy and separate from evil. As well, they must not react sinfully to the sins being committed against them. Rather, they must continue to obey authorities and to live with a pure testimony. These are challenges all of us need. We easily can lose sight of the fact that our true home is in heaven. Because of that, we live for temporary pleasures, we run from suffering, and we are sloppy in our obedience. But an eternal perspective changes everything, and boy do we need to work to keep this perspective.
Returning to our text, Peter concludes his introduction by rehearsing the spiritual heritage of his readers.
Introduction to Our Spiritual Heritage (v. 2):
Peter does so by describing the work of each member of the Trinity in God’s people.
The Father chose us according to foreknowledge. In Greek, word order is not nearly as significant as it is in English. The word “elect” actually is placed in v. 1 alongside pilgrims. The literal idea is that Christians are “elect pilgrims.” I said that suffering largely shapes the content of this book, and we see it already. The readers felt out of place in their society because of the hatred they endured, but Peter reminds them that their status wasn’t random. They were aliens because God elected or chose them to be citizens of another country. The grammar is clear that God is the subject of election, which is why the translators placed “elect” with v. 2. Therefore, it would be appropriate to read this statement as “to the pilgrims who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” As I mentioned last Sunday, the decree of God ultimately determines our salvation. He chose us before the foundation of the world, and v. 2 adds that he did so “according to foreknowledge.” The idea is that God determined to set his love on us. He knew us in the sense that he loved us and made us his special people. Peter points out this fact to encourage his readers. They were living in a hostile society. Peter calls their situation a “fiery trial,” and he says that it paralleled the sufferings of Christ (4:12-13). Some in the world may have hated them, but their Heavenly Father loved them before the foundation of the world and chose them to be his people. The may have been aliens or outsiders in the world, but from an eternal perspective, they were the chosen people of God. It’s a great blessing to be able to lean on people whose love is certain, when you are facing opposition. For example, if you have a cantankerous boss who is always on your case, it’s a great joy to come home to a wife who you know will always love you. You can be secure in her love, and it helps you endure insecurity at work. And Peter wanted his readers to rest secure in God’s love even while the world hated them. This is an important truth for us to remember when people reject us. People’s opinions of us may change, and we may feel like outsiders at times because our values and beliefs convict unbelievers and they don’t want to hear them. But no matter what happens in this world, the God of the universe loves us. We are his special people, and this love will never change. Praise the Lord that we can rest secure in the love of God because he chose us to be his people long before we reached out to him.
The Spirit sanctifies us. The most natural way to read this phrase is to take “the Spirit” as the one doing the action of sanctifying. The Holy Spirit sanctifies God’s people. But what does this mean? The word translated “sanctification” comes from the hagios family of Greek terms. The basic meaning of this word is “holy.” In the OT, the concept of holiness is primarily used with reference to things that are set apart for God’s use. The priests, the sacrificial animals, the temple, and the temple furniture were considered holy. When used this way, holiness doesn’t necessarily indicate a moral quality. For example the gold used in an altar isn’t morally superior to the gold used to make a necklace. It is simply set apart for God. The most significant group that was designated as holy was the nation of Israel. They were to be set apart for God. They were his chosen and special people. But because they were designated as God’s people, they were to reflect God’s holiness in their conduct. They were to be morally pure as God is morally pure. The idea of moral holiness comes to the forefront in the NT. When the NT talks about holiness or sanctification, it primarily refers to God’s progressive work in his people to make us more and more holy like he is holy. Our text notes that the Spirit works in us to make us progressively more holy. This should be very encouraging. Verse 16 commands us to be holy as God is holy. That may be the most humanly impossible command ever given. But God hasn’t left us alone to pursue holiness; he has given us the Spirit to help us pursue the goal. In fact, he is the primary agent of spiritual change. We are responsible to “press toward the mark” as hard as we can, but the NT repeatedly teaches that “God works in you both to will and do His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). The Spirit is making us holy. Holiness is going to be an important theme in this book. The readers were facing great hostility because of how their faith made them stand out. It seems that they were tempted to respond by trying to blend in and not be so different. But Peter is going to challenge them not to compromise. They needed to embrace their position as God’s special people and become like him. And they could pursue this goal with hope because the Spirit was helping them get there. Praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit is at work in us making us holy because spiritual growth is so hard. Our sin nature is constantly pushing us away from holiness, and there are so many forces in the world working against us as well. But we can be sanctified because a far greater power is at work in us. We have the power of God. It might be that you are discouraged in your battle for holiness. It might be that you have grown apathetic. You might think there is no way I could ever change in this area or that. Stay encouraged. Believe change is possible because if you are saved, the Spirit is sanctifying you.
The Father chose us, and the Spirit is sanctifying us.
The Son helps our obedience and gives cleansing. There are a variety of opinions about how to understand this statement. The questions center on whether Peter is talking about conversion or the Christian life. Some people think “obedience” refers to obedience to the gospel in conversion and others to a Christian’s obedience after conversion. As well, the “sprinkling of the blood” can be taken as referring to the cleansing we receive at conversion or the cleansing we receive as Christians when we confess our sin. I believe it is best to take this phrase as a reference to the experience of a Christian after conversion. This is because the preposition that begins the phrase indicates this is a result. God’s election and the Spirit’s sanctification result in obedience and cleansing. If this is the flow of the text, then it doesn’t make sense for Peter to go back to conversion. It’s best to see the sanctifying work of the Spirit as resulting in obedience. As we become holy, we obey. Obedience is essential to godliness. This should be obvious, but it’s amazing how often we can overlook it or dismiss it. Or we just grow lazy and apathetic. We need to constantly bring ourselves back to the importance of obedience. And thankfully, God hasn’t left us alone to do so. Since the Spirit sanctifies us, he is helping us obey. As well, this last phrase describes the activity of Jesus in our lives; therefore, Peter is saying that we obey through the Spirit and through Christ. God is with us enabling us to obey his will. Because of that, we should never throw our hands in the air and give up on obedience. We should never say, “I can’t obey that command,” or “God is asking too much of me.” We can obey because Christ and the Spirit are with us. Therefore, we must obey. It might be that you know of an area in your own life where you are not obeying like you should. It might be there’s an area where you have outright decided you are not going to obey. I want to challenge you to see the wickedness of that attitude. Obedience is at the heart of godliness, and we must strive to obey. I love the way 1 John 2:1 puts it when it says, “I write these things to you, so that you may not sin.” God gives us a high goal to pursue. But the fact is, we will never reach it perfectly. The same verse goes on to state, “And if anyone sins (which 1:8, 10 say that we will), we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Jesus is there to provide continued forgiveness when we sin. This is what Peter is referring to in our text when he mentions the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” In the OT sacrificial system, blood was used to cleanse sin. It removed guilt and the stain it puts on our standing before God. All of us who are saved have in one sense been forever cleansed. Colossians 2 says that our sin was nailed to his cross and that all of our sins have been forgiven. This is the judicial side of our faith. But there’s also a relational side of our faith. When a Christian sins and becomes hardened in that sin, it affects our fellowship with God. But when we confess our sin, 1 John 1:9 states “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God does so, because as we saw in 1 John 2:1, Jesus is our Advocate with the Father. As our text states, his blood continues to cleanse us and to provide fellowship with God. This ought to be a source of great encouragement. We fall short all of the time of God’s holiness, but Jesus’ blood is always sufficient to forgive.
My basic challenge for those of us who know Christ is to recognize your standing in grace. Peter opens our text by noting that all three members of the Trinity are working together for our good. The Father chose us, the Spirit is sanctifying us, and Christ is also helping our obedience and cleansing our hearts. It is essential that we constantly come back to this standing of grace and rest confidently in God’s love and his continued care. Praise God for his grace, and may he help us to trust it fully.
Before I close, I want to emphasize that this grace only belongs to those who are saved. When Peter talks about Christians as those who are aliens, he assumes that they live among people who are not Christians and do not enjoy the blessings described in this text. Everyone does not enjoy the blessings of this text. Maybe you have never really wanted to commit yourself to following Christ because you aren’t sure you are willing to give everything to him. First Peter is clear that following Christ can be costly. But it is also clear, that Christ is worth every sacrifice. The blessings of eternity are worth anything temporal sacrifice, and Christ gives us the grace to press on today. Don’t let the temporary concerns or pleasures of this life keep you from following Christ. Don’t be deceived. Turn to him today and be saved.
We are going to close with #76 “O Great God.” Let’s sing it as a prayer of our hearts that God would help us to live his will, and as a prayer of commitment to do so.