We are turning our attention this summer to the two small epistles written by the Apostle Peter. Influenced by his own aggressive personality traits and the impact of the interaction with Jesus Christ, Peter has taken a significant role of leadership in the early church.
The power of living alongside the Savior put passion and energy into Peter’s ministry and writings. He sees today as urgent, for he understands that tomorrow is not guaranteed. He detests complacency and indifference.
The opening verse of Peter’s first book identifies the readers as “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” The Dispersion probably refers to the time when many Jews were expelled from Jerusalem, an event that took place shortly after the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.
If the idea that the readers are Jews scattered from Jerusalem is correct, these are a persecuted and displaced people. They were forced to leave Jerusalem simply because they were Jewish — whether Christian or not. Away from their homeland, they have professed faith in Jesus and now are facing Rome’s cruel hand because of their association with Christ and His followers.
Other NT writings refer occasionally to Christian suffering, but Peter seems to be preoccupied with it. Being present during the suffering of Jesus certainly was an influence on his life, but Peter may also have been concerned to write with empathy and poignancy to Christians who were enduring suffering for the cause of Christ.
Abuses seem to be very common to Christians everywhere (1 Peter 5:9). Cruel masters may sometimes abuse their Christian servants (1 Peter 2:18–20); Christian wives may have to endure harsh, unbelieving husbands (1 Peter 3:1–6); and, in general, people are on the lookout to revile Christians as wrongdoers (1 Peter 2:12; 3:9, 16; 4:15, 16).
While no official Roman persecution is clearly mentioned, history affirms that Nero blamed Christians for the burning of Rome in AD64 and fiercely instigated their deaths in the years that followed. According to Tacitus, a respected historian, Nero blamed the Christians for burning Rome in order to put down rumors that he himself had done it amidst efforts to build an even greater city. Though human torches lit the Palace gardens and lions fed on Christians before coliseum crowds in Rome, similar gruesome experiences were found throughout the Empire.
You are probably already feeling some similarities with Peter’s words to the suffering during our troubled times. The pandemic, economic woes and social unrest have worked together to brew difficult times for the church. While most churches have begun to open their buildings for worship again, many churches are experiencing depleted numbers and offerings. Freedoms are shipwrecked on the rocks of health and economic woes.
Peter gives us some advice and encouragement for living in a world that is out of control. Let’s look at the first two verses of the letter to find Peter’s first principle and a couple of his arguments. His principle is clear. Christians are strangers in this world: live like it.
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 (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV).
The word translated “elect” in verse one literally means “called out.” It uses the same root word for the word that is translated “church.” In the Old Testament, Israel was called God’s elect – they were called out of their slavery in Egypt. God calls us out of slavery, a concept that is so important for us to grapple with today. It can be physical slavery as with the people of Israel. It can also be the enslavement to a way of thinking, trapped by the culture’s worldview.
But more importantly, the church is called out of her enslavement to sin. The Hebrew writer tells us to cast off the shackles of sin that “so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1-3). Move from enslavement to sin over to freedom in Christ.
The readers of the epistle were called out of their native land of Judea and were “scattered” throughout Asia Minor. What a powerful lesson, calling on their own experience. The word translated “strangers” is from a compound Greek word that literally means “to wander alongside the natives.” Christians are to be strangers because they are called to be obedient in a world that stresses self-fulfillment and achievement.
Strangers are never totally comfortable in their surroundings. On vacation, we aren’t completely sure of the roads and pathways. The grocery is located in a strange place. Its aisles are laid out differently. We have a difficult time finding products. The drugstore doesn’t carry our favorite brand. Gasoline prices always seem higher. Things don’t seem right.
The problem is compounded if we travel outside the country. Our vacation to the Mediterranean emphasized that when we were in Greece. Having studied their ancient language throughout college, several words were familiar in print. But the speed of a native speaker made even those words unsure. The rest of the vocabulary, as they say, was “Greek to me.” We don’t speak the language.
There is a place in Florida that we have visited on several vacations. We remember businesses and the faces of some people. The representative at the counter of the condo, the waitress at our favorite restaurant and a shop owner are acquaintances, people that we recognize. But they are not close friends. They simply aren’t the people we know from home.
We understand the message, don’t we? Don’t get comfortable in the world. You don’t really live here. You are just on vacation. Someday you will be home.