Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reading Through First Letter of Peter

Letters WrightWe now continue in the general epistles in this year’s devotional read through of the New Testament, in the First Letter of Peter, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Peter's letter calls believers scattered throughout this world to live the gracious life of the age to come in the midst of the very ungracious present world. This makes sense because God's promises guarantee that God will bring glory from the present oppression and persecution his people face. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

He introduces his main point in the introduction. God's people have a guaranteed inheritance because he has chosen them for holiness and glory Thus, they can joyfully serve God, despite trials, as the prophets did. This is guaranteed by by the Father’s choice, the Son’s blood and the Spirit’s work and all are sure because of God's power. Believers are called to live out God's grace now and the message of the gospel now, as Jesus did. The standard for this is the Word/gospel written and preached that grow us into the image of Christ. The proper response to the gospel is a desire to be like Christ, resist evil and love others deeply. The promise of God guarantees the ultimate success of his plan. 

The new world has in fact already come into being through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Through that sacrificial death on the one hand and the indwelling of God’s spirit on the other hand, God has set people apart to be living signals of this new world. They are therefore to be ‘holy’, both in the technical sense that God has set them apart for this purpose and in the practical sense that their actual lives have been transformed. The way they behave now reflects God’s desire for his human creatures. That – however daunting and unlikely it seems – is who we are as Christians. 50, 1 Peter 1.1-9

What matters now is to keep our eyes fixed on the one who has ‘bought us back’, has cleaned us up, and has already begun to put us to new use. That’s what it means, as Peter says at the end, for us to believe in ‘the God who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory’, placing him in authority over all things. That’s what it means, in the present time, to have ‘faith and hope in God’ (verse 21). 55, 1 Peter 1.10-21

That is the controlling image of this section: the baby that has recently been born and now needs to feed, to grow, and to learn to live within the family. Becoming a Christian is about the new life within us first coming to birth, then being nourished and sustained, then growing to maturity. That last stage is marked, as it should be for a growing child, with the discovery that there are good ways and bad ways of relating to those around you. You have to learn to choose the first and renounce the second. 57, 1 Peter 1.22-2.3

Therefore, God's people should offer themselves to Jesus because He is the only sure basis for life and what he has done for us obligates us to set aside our lives to serve Him. Jesus will then build these diverse people into his unified body, the church. This means that believers should live lives of submission and harmony with each other and with the world. Their exemplary lives should draw unbelievers to God. This is seen as they respect and submit to all authorities, even harsh ones, in order to have a good reputation, promote stability, to live as a free servants of God who receive God‘s commendation. Jesus provides the ultimate example of submission as he endured persecution, insults and suffering without retaliation. By this means he accomplished salvation, defeated the forces of tyranny and darkness and, by the same means, believers will participate in his victory.

Peter believed that all God’s promises to Israel had been fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus himself, and that therefore all who belonged to Jesus had now been brought into that ‘people of God’, that true Temple. The one true God was now living in them! The ‘Temple’ had been rebuilt – not in Jerusalem but all round the world! That is the great truth on which everything else in the letter will depend. 63, 1 Peter 2.4-10

Make sure at the same time that, by your good behaviour, you shame those who, out of folly and ignorance, want to criticize you. That is how God is establishing his presence and his rule on earth as in heaven. Oppressive tyranny and violent revolution are not the only options. Serving the true God by living a peaceful, wise, visibly good life is, in the end, far more revolutionary than simply overthrowing one corrupt regime and replacing it by . . . well, most likely by another, as history shows. 67, 1 Peter 2.11-17

Peter isn’t simply recommending that people remain passive while suffering violence. He is urging them to realize that somehow, strangely, the sufferings of the Messiah are not only the means by which we ourselves are rescued from our own sin. They are the means, when extended through the life of his people, by which the world itself may be brought to a new place. 71, 1 Peter 2.18-25

This submission is especially seen in our closest relationships as they are transformed by the gospel. Husbands and wives imitate Jesus by submitting to, loving and serving one another as partners in salvation and ministry. They should live compassionately, humbly and in harmony with one another, trusting God to take care of personal interests because God’s protection and provision are guaranteed for those who live submissive lives. This may bring suffering, but suffering for doing what is right and good provides good witness to the world and brings blessing. Jesus is the ultimate example that suffering leads to exaltation, reward and benefit to others. We participate in Jesus' mission when we suffer in the same way and will share the same reward.

Left to ourselves, even (alas) in the church, we gravitate towards what women and men have always done, allowing social stereotypes and natural hormonal instinct to dictate to us. We don’t find it easy to go by the hard road of rethinking roles in the light (not of ‘liberation’ of this or that kind, but) of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. 74, 1 Peter 3.1-7

Here is the irony: Christians are supposed to stand out as distinctive, but when we do, and are mocked or criticized for it, we are tempted to mock and criticize right back – and then we are no longer distinctive, because we are behaving just like everyone else! 78, 1 Peter 3.8-16

What we need to know, when facing trouble or persecution, is this. Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the hope of Israel by defeating all the spiritual powers in the world, the ones who were responsible for wickedness and corruption from ancient times. It may not look like it to the little Christian communities facing the possibility of suffering, but their baptism places them alongside the Messiah in his victory. They must hold their heads up, keep their consciences clear, and trust that his victory will be played out in the world to which they are bearing witness. 83, 1 Peter 3.17-22

Thus, believers should expect suffering and welcome trials because they work out God's will to save, not only believers, but redeem the whole world. Just as Jesus’ suffering defeated sin ultimately, so our suffering overcomes sin in our own lives. So, we should respond to trials and persecution with acts of grace enabled by God‘s power. When we do this God promises fellowship with Christ, glory, blessing of the experience of the Spirit, bringing praise to God, purging of sin and completion of God‘s work of grace in our lives.

Peter is treading a fine line. He is not glorifying suffering for its own sake. He is not saying you should go looking for it. But, just as the crucifixion of the Messiah was at the same time the most wicked thing humans ever did and the most powerfully loving thing God ever did, so the wickedness of those who persecute God’s people forms the strange frame within which the power of God’s transforming love can shine through all the more strongly. 86-87, 1 Peter 4.1-11

From God’s perspective, the holiest, most loving person is still someone who needs to be rescued, and is still so weighed down with sin that without the grace and mercy shown through Jesus that rescue would not happen. This alarming reflection is not meant to produce panic, but rather gratitude. Those who are at present persecuting the church will meet their own judgment in due course, and God’s people are called in the meantime to faith and patience. 89-90, 1 Peter 4.12-19

Peter closes his letter with instructions to both the older and younger members of his congregations. The leaders should serve sacrificially as Jesus did, sharing in the sufferings of their people. They exist for the benefit of God's people, not their own, and serve to accomplish God's kingdom work, not their own agendas. The rest of the people in the church should live submissively and humbly, faithfully standing in God‘s grace despite trials. We are all called to faithfully live out God’s grace in the power He provides.

I would rather belong to a group or a fellowship where the ‘leader’ had no idea about ‘leadership’, but was out-and-out committed to God and the gospel, than one where the person in charge had done three or four courses on ‘leadership’ but had found it left little time for studying scripture or for praying. 92, 1 Peter 5.1-7

The actual, human opponents, even your fiercest persecutors, are not in fact the real enemy. There is a real enemy, and he will be using them. But if you resist him, staying resolute in faith and remembering that you are holding your bit of the line while your Christian brothers and sisters across the world are holding theirs, you will find that courteous and civil behaviour, acting with respect and gentleness, will again and again win an answering respect from outsiders, even if they still don’t understand what makes you tick. 96-97, 1 Peter 5.8-14 

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