Devotions on 1st Peter
For the past few months I have been writing devotions on 1st Peter for The Biblical Recorder, the North Carolina baptist newspaper. Each devotion is only 300 words and follows the outline of LifeWay’s Sunday school curriculum “Explore the Bible“. Perhaps you will find them helpful.
Living with Lasting Hope (1 Peter 1:1-12)
The Apostle Peter penned First Peter to be circulated among God’s elect scattered throughout modern-day Turkey, an area that covered about 130,000 square miles. The purpose of the letter was to encourage the people of God in remaining faithful. We are reminded that Peter’s precious Savior Jesus Christ once charged him to feed the sheep. Here he does so very sweetly reminding them of the hope they have in the work of the triune God.
If there is anything that a troubled person needs, it is hope. And if there is anything that the promises of God in Christ offer, it is a hope that cannot be sabotaged. But sometimes Christians need to be reminded of this truth, especially when the cold dark clouds of suffering, distress and uncertainty block the horizon. Hope, according to Paul, calls believers to look beyond present circumstances towards an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.
This eternal hope has undeniable implications on how we face difficulty in the present life. There are many people around us who hold on to the empty philosophies of the world. Nevertheless, people continue to sacrifice their lives for these empty promises. Yet, for Christians we realize that Christ offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be brought to God, the only one in whom our deepest needs could be met.
We need to be reminded of the hope we have in Christ. May the Spirit stir up a longing for our true home with God, and for the inheritance we have in Christ. As Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “observe that the inheritance is kept for the saints, and the saints for the inheritance.” This is certainly a message that should circulate among believers as we are scattered as strangers in a fallen world, awaiting the glorious appearing of our Savior. Our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Living with Gospel Holiness (1 Pet. 1:13-25)
The words “be holy, for I am holy” can be terribly unsettling to the Christian when considering “the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” as Isaiah asserts. By declaring that God is holy, we proclaim that He is utterly set apart from all things as perfect and pure.
And we as Christians recognize that we are radically sinful and depraved. So the command to be holy seems to be an inexorable demand on us, completely impossible for us to accomplish. And it is. As C.S. Lewis is quoted in A Severe Mercy, we are “hopeless if this is to be done on our own … God must do it.”
This is the good news and the paradox of holiness! God acts to judge everything that is unholy and yet provides a way of cleansing for sinners. Simply put, in Christ one is made holy before God. Once one has truly experienced the grace of God in the gospel they are released from the slavery to ignorant passions and set free to live in a way that is pleasing to God. Yet we all struggle with sin. We will not experience holiness in its fullness until Christ comes and makes all things new.
So, when I struggle with sin in my own life I have found it valuable to adopt Peter’s method in this passage of looking to Christ. First, reflect on the love of Christ, namely, that he shed his precious blood to cleanse us from sin. Second, consider the holiness of God as the beautiful pattern to mirror in a shattered world. Lastly, the imminent coming of Christ and the judgment of the Father should spur us on to pursue what is good, and we do so knowing that the Spirit purifies us through the living Word. The call to be holy is terribly comforting.
Living as a New Household (1 Peter 2:1-10)
The people of God are just that, God’s people, defined by belonging to God. Moreover, this “household” of God is built on a solid foundation, Jesus Christ. Peter proclaims that Jesus is the cornerstone, the solid basis for construction of the whole building. In other words, the cornerstone provides stability, longevity, and holds everything else up.
Now, consider the words of Ed Clowney who once wrote, “… the status of Christians depends upon the status of Christ, for they are joined to him.” This should give the church great confidence because in Christ we are secure! May the Spirit remind us of this great truth continually. Even more so, Peter declares that God’s house is made of “living stones,” being “built up” and growing as the dwelling place of God.
One cannot help but recall Eden as the first dwelling place of God. Adam and Eve were commissioned to expand this dwelling place throughout the world. But with sin, to use the words of John Milton, paradise was lost. Sure, God dwelt with Israel in tent and temple, but now because of the work of Christ, God dwells within the church through his Spirit. And the church is commissioned to expand the household of Christ to all nations by proclaiming his excellencies.
There is only one edifice that will stand the course of time. There is only one building that will hold through the toughest of storms and not be destroyed. There is only one household that will continue throughout eternity, the household of God. This household is full of people who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, so let us long for Him as we grow up into salvation.
Living as Strangers (1 Peter 2:11-17)
The call to live as exiles in a fallen world requires sober self-reflection for our churches. It would seem that many of our congregations have tended toward complete separatism, but Peter calls us to live as sojourners.
As Christians we know that we have no abiding city here, yet we are still called to, as James Davidson Hunter argues, maintain a faithful presence within our fallen world. Moreover, Peter urges believers to live such good lives that our pagan neighbors would end up giving glory to God. It would seem that the more holistic understanding of our place in this world calls us to a posture of both solidarity and separation with our culture. We are called to separation in the sense that we model a different kind of life, with different hopes and motivations flowing from the gospel.
We are called to solidarity in that we are deeply involved in the needs of our neighborhoods and the world reflecting the implications of the gospel. Around 360 AD, the Roman Emperor Julian became curious of the Christians who loved not only the needy in the church, but also the needy in their community. Emperor Julian actually argued that the pagan religions of his time should attempt to imitate and outdo the conduct of the Christians. See, it was self-giving love of those early Christians that became a powerful witness to the power of the gospel. Simply put, their deeds authenticated their words.
I think Michael Goheen is correct when he writes that the world no longer sees the church as “an alien and undesirable invasion of people meeting their own selfish purposes but rather as a welcome presence there to bless the neighborhood.” If your church were to cease existing, would your community miss you?
Living with Stress (1 Peter 2:18-25)
According to statistics, between 75-90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints or conditions. What usually brings about stress? Perhaps some people are stressed from internal pressures such as the need for accomplishment, approval from others or perfectionism. For some, stress comes from external situations related to government, work or culture. I don’t think it would be a shot in the dark to argue that everyone suffers from stress in some way, shape or form. I would also bet that suffering, if suffering wasn’t enough in itself, brings stress with it.
What fortifies someone when stress and suffering close in? All people look for something to compose and quiet their soul. Well, the Apostle Peter encourages Christians to be mindful of God when enduring the circumstances of this life. Think about it this way, every possible thing in this finite world that causes stress and suffering is ultimately limited and passing.
Being mindful of God literally means making conscious effort to dwell on his sovereignty and providence in all situations. Falling completely into the mercy of God found in Christ allows one to patiently endure all things. Even more so, as John Calvin said, “when we turn our eyes to the Son of God, all bitterness is mitigated.” Even though it is tough, why let stress and suffering bring us to ultimate despair?
Did not Christ suffer so that we could have our deepest need met, to be at peace with God? In the pattern of Christ and in the power of the Spirit may we entrust ourselves to the God of the universe. Let us remember that our deepest needs have already been atoned for when the shepherd was struck for the sheep. It is by his wounds that we have been healed.
Living at Home (1 Peter 3:1-12)
Peter’s words to husbands and wives about the honorable home are just as timely today as they were when he first penned them. There has been an onslaught of political and cultural conversation over marriage recently. It’s easy for us as Christians to fight for marriage in the public square, but how many of us are just as invested in our own marriages? In this passage Peter calls women to cultivate an inner spiritual beauty and calls men to be understanding and honor their wives as gifts from God.
Let’s be honest, there are times in marriage, even a Christian marriage, when upholding the biblical picture of marriage is not so easy. The relationship is often difficult and painful. While marriage may be hard, the calling is also rewarding and wondrous. In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes that the purpose of marriage “… is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.” Not only does this mission benefit our own marriages, but also displays the power of the gospel to a confused world. The respectful and pure conduct that Peter calls for demonstrates God’s intention for marriage.
A Christian understanding of the home is often unintelligible to those who are not of the faith. Why would we expect them to understand? But the confident yet humble power of the gospel on display between a husband and a wife is arresting to those looking on. Imagine how beautiful it would be if in our marriages we strived to have unity, sympathy, love, tenderness and humility. There is no six-step program to achieve this type of marriage. Simple behavior modification will not produce lasting change. Only the gospel will allow us to have the loss of pride and self-will that enables us to humbly serve the other.
Living without Fear (1 Peter 3:13-22)
Fear can be crippling. Most counselors will point out that in order to trace the roots of our fears, and find their deeper meaning, we must look in two directions: outward to dangers and inward to our own anxieties. It’s not a stretch to say that Peter’s original readers wrestled with both external and internal fears as they endured suffering for their faith. What will happen to us? Will I be able to remain steadfast? How should we battle fear?
According to Peter, we should counter fears with the promises of God. Ed Clowney puts it this way: Peter “… is assuring them that, under God’s care and blessing, no evil can befall them … God’s vindication and protection will preserve the heirs of his blessing.” How wonderful! Sure, there may be times where we are troubled, persecuted or must endure suffering – perhaps even for doing good. But in those times we can rest assured that we are ultimately secure in Christ.
Christ suffered the cross and shame so that we could be secure in God. If we can take the gospel and our identity in Christ to every fear – external and internal – the perfect love of God will destroy them. Moreover, Christ now sits at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers having been subjected to Him. Christ reins. What then shall we fear? Ultimately fear and suffering in this life are temporary.
When set against the grand story of the world, the severity of present-day troubles is alleviated, though not denied. We can bring our fears in perspective and rest when we consider that Christ has taken care of our deepest needs and that His Spirit ministers to us in our time of trouble. For this reason we are able to lift our voices and proclaim “… no guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me!”
Living in Community (1 Peter 4:1-11)
Individualism is antithetical to community. Individualism has become one of the distinctives of modern life. The sovereign autonomous self reigns in popular culture and in the heart of every person. All around us we see selfish desires driving people to seek escape, comfort and satisfaction in the passions of the flesh.
And if we are honest, we are just as broken on the inside as the people we usually point to on the outside. But for us, it is more comfortable to hide our brokenness by covering it up and acting as if everything is OK, especially around our local church community. But in 1 Peter 4:8-10 we are able to see into the window of a community of believers that express selfless love for one another earnestly, accepting each other as they are, more importantly, as they are in Christ. We see a community of believers that are focused on serving one another instead of looking out to satisfy their own needs.
It is in this type of environment that we receive spiritual nurture, but also one in which deep-seated problems will come to the surface and will receive treatment. In a community marked by gospel love, hospitality and service everyone is free to rest on the grace of God and be open about who they really are. Dietrich Bonheoffer once said that “the pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner … but the fact is, we are sinners.” While others may find their joy in satisfying their own desires and projecting a self-reliant image of themselves to the world, we as a community of Christians must find our joy in Christ. And when we do, we will count it joy to serve others. Moreover, we will feel the freedom to be reliant on the only One to whom belongs glory and dominion forever and ever.
Living in Faith (1 Peter 4:12-19)
C.S. Lewis once wrote to a friend his reflections on suffering: “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do what’s best for us, we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Perhaps this is why Peter urges the readers of 1 Peter 4:12-19 to faithfully and unreservedly entrust themselves to God while enduring suffering. In the midst of suffering, trials, and hard times it is very hard to see beyond the pain and anxiety of what lies ahead.
Trusting in God during the darkest period requires a rock solid belief in the gospel, and it requires the indwelling and life giving power of the Holy Spirit. Peter proclaims that when fiery trials hit, and they will, we are to rejoice. What strange words.
We are to rejoice in suffering because in them we share in sufferings of Christ. And if we share in the sufferings of Christ we can rest assured that we will also share with him in his glory. Moreover, we are told that when suffering strikes the Holy Spirit rests upon us giving us a taste of what is to come. Our hope rests in the finished work of God when the very word ‘suffering’ no longer exists in the human vocabulary. There will come a day when all things are made new, when God will wipe away every tear, when death shall be no more, when there will be no mourning, nor crying, nor pain.
As we await that day may we entrust our souls to the creator and sing with our brothers and sister the famous words penned by Horatio Spafford: When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Living in Humility (1 Peter 5:1-14)
Peter calls us to humility in 1 Peter 1-14. But all people, Christians as well as nonbelievers, are self-centered by nature. We are always thinking about ourselves. Sometimes we think of ourselves better than we ought. It is the pride of humanity that keeps us from honestly assessing ourselves. Other times we think about ourselves so lowly that we are driven into the pits of despair. When Peter calls us to humble ourselves, what should this look like? Moreover, how do we avoid swinging back and forth between self-righteousness and despair?
Let us be reminded that humility is elusive. As Tim Keller says, once you begin talking about humility, it leaves. There is a sense in which examining your own heart, even for sin, often leads to being proud about your diligence and circumspection. True humility is what C.S. Lewis called “blessed self-forgetfulness.” True humility allows one to no longer focus on themselves. As Lewis argued, humility is “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
In 1 Peter 5:5 the apostle quotes Proverbs 3:34 which proclaims that God gives grace to the humble. It is only through humility that we can receive Christ. Moreover, it is only through humility that we can continue to apply the gospel to our own lives.
We obtain this blessed self-forgetfulness when we begin to focus on Christ and what He has done for us in the cross and resurrection. When we truly believe the gospel of grace we are kept from swinging from pride and despair. Moreover, when we see the beauty of Jesus in the gospel, we are able relate with humility toward one another, for we are all saved by grace. Let us take the initiative to actively clothe ourselves in humility towards others, in response to passively obtaining the grace of God ourselves.