I’ve always enjoyed the book of 1 Peter. I remember preaching verse by verse through the book twenty years ago when I served a congregation in St. Louis. I’m sure I gave it my best effort, but clearly did not have enough miles on my odometer to appreciate the value of what Peter offered to his audience concerning suffering and hope.
I facilitate a men’s Bible study that meets in the early hours of Thursday mornings at a local supermarket restaurant. Over the next several months we’re going to do work on this marvelous New Testament book. It’s my desire to share some of my reflections on our study and conversation over bacon and eggs.
1 Peter begins with his salutation to a general audience that is scattered over (at least) 5 provinces. His intended readers are Jewish Christians that have been scattered across the region due to persecution that arose in Jerusalem (e.g. Acts 8:1-3). One of his purposes is to encourage the readers to faithfully live their lives as Christians even though they are undergoing suffering and persecution at the hands of those who are hostile to Christianity.
The NLT (I’m a fan!) describes these believers as “foreigners,” which they were in more ways than one. Literally, they were not citizens. They were not native or indigenous to the region they were living. Metaphorically, they simply didn’t belong. They didn’t fit in and were clearly out of place because of their faith. I like Joel Green’s thoughts at this point. In his commentary on 1 Peter, Green remarks, “1 Peter is written to folks who do not belong, who eke out their lives on the periphery of acceptable society, whose deepest loyalties and inclinations do not line up very well with what matters most in the world in which they live. This is not the sort of life that most people find attractive.” (Green, p. 18) For Peter’s audience, this exclusion would have extended to a person’s economics, family, religion, social structure and government.
Perhaps there are times when you feel like you don’t fit in because of your faith. While our government guarantees certain freedoms and protects our rights to worship, Christians can still face exclusion, even if only in social circles. If you have never felt out of place, then perhaps something is wrong!
Peter continues his salutation by referencing our great salvation. In our salvation he references the entire work of the Trinity: the Father who chose, the Spirit who makes holy, and the Son who cleanses by his blood. One may doubt whether or not Peter’s readers understood all of the implications of election, sanctification and justification. After all, we’ve been plumbing the depths of these concepts for 2,000 years. Suffice it to say, all of God was involved and is involved in saving all of me! Salvation has provided grace and peace, which frames Peter’s prayer request at the end of the verse.
Unlike Paul, Peter concludes his salutation with a brief prayer. He asks God to provide “more and more grace and peace.” Given the subject matter of the book, suffering, this is a curious request. It would seem natural and logical for his request to be more akin to God delivering these persecuted sufferers from persecution and suffering. He does not.
Grace and peace are at the front end of our Christian experience. But it’s also the stuff that composes our ongoing life with God. So what does this prayer request tell us about salvation and suffering?
First, my suffering may not be removed. Our obvious prayer is to alleviate or remove it altogether. But sometimes God’s sovereign providence allows us to continue in our pain and suffering. Grace and peace become the things that sustain us in the midst of what we are called to endure.
Second, as grace and peace have brought Christ into my life, grace and peace continue to bring Christ into my life in deeper and more meaningful ways. Suffering becomes a pathway which ushers more and more grace and peace into my life. Grace and peace strengthen my character and transform me into the likeness of Christ.