Studies in First Peter - Introduction

R. Grant, Stevenston

Part 1 of 8 of the series Studies in 1 Peter

Peter's letters are written in fulfilment of the ministry committed to him by the Lord Jesus in the words, "Feed my sheep". He sees the flock of God as "scattered" widely, probably as the result of their confession of Christ, and as "strangers" without the protection of rights, threatened imminently if not immediately by bitter persecution, deeply in need of guidance and reassurance. He gives himself to the task of meeting that need, by unfolding the purpose of God in their call and conversion, by describing graphically the nature and the consequences of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, and by expounding and applying the principles which bear on the problem of righteous suffering. On the basis of this ministry, he urges them to holy living, to submission in a hostile world, and to patient endurance of whatever trials God may allow them to experience.

Without detailed analysis, the outline by Dr. W. Graham Scroggie of this Epistle highlights this general objective, and serves to set this present series of studies in context:

1.   The Christian's vocation—Salvation, 1. 3 to 2. 10.

2.   The Christian's behaviour—Submission, 2. 22 to 3. 12.

3.   The Christian's discipline—Suffering, 3. 13 to 5. 11.

These studies are concerned with the subject of the gracious purpose of God as developed in the first of these themes. The key to the interpretation of the passage is found in the state­ment in 1. 2 about the work of God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—in the choice, call and cleansing of believers. The work of divine Persons in its amazing unity in diversity is described in three sections as follows :

The work of God for His people, 1. 3-12—"Salvation".

1.   The work of the Father, ground of the believer's hope, w. 3-5.

2.   The worth of the Son, object of the believer's love, w. 6-9.

3.   The word of the Spirit, basis of the believer's faith, w. 10-12.

The work of God in His people, 1.13-25—"Sanctification".

1. The worth of the Father, vv. 13-16.

2. The work of the Son, w. 17-21,

3. The word of the Spirit, w. 22-25, in their bearing on the Christian life.

The work of God through His people, 2. 1-10—"Service".

1.   Development by the word, the work of the Spirit, vv. 1-3.

2.   Dedication to the worship of God, by the work of the Son, w. 4-8.

3.   Display of the worth of the Father, w. 9-10. Readers following these studies should refer to this analysis before reading each of the following seven articles.

One or two general considerations will help to an apprecia­tion of Peter's line of thought.

1.   This description of the work and purpose of God in general precedes the very practical exhortations that abound in the Epistle. This principle is true throughout Scripture. All those familiar with the ways of God as revealed in His Word will appreciate that doctrinal statements form the basis of exhortations and appeals to right living.

2.    The order in which divine operations are described is not haphazard. The work of God for men is the prerequisite to His work in them, and both are prerequisites to His work through them. Spiritual life is necessary to spiritual character, and character to spiritual activity. The "wherefore" which opens the second and third sections, i. 13; 2.1, recognizes and emphasizes that principle.

3.   An awareness of God's purpose is necessary to true perspective, especially in a time of testing. To know that God's plans cannot be thwarted by, and indeed that they allow for, opposition to righteousness on earth is a great influence for calm when every circumstance tends to make for panic. Thus, as the theme unfolds, Peter exhorts his readers to "be sober, and hope to the end", 1. 13.

4.    In spite of the greatness of its theme, the Epistle is not written as a matter for intellectual exercise. The glorious purpose of God, in all its sublimity and scope, is unveiled to the view of humble Christian men and women, living as unprivileged subjects under alien rule, 2. 13, suffering unjustly in the service of harsh and overbearing masters, 2. 18, or married to unsaved and unsympathetic partners, 3. 1. This glorious purpose is a reason for, and an incentive to, Christlike submission in hostile surroundings and untoward circumstances. The Epistle is, in this sense, characteristic of so many of the writings of Scripture, namely, the sublimest teaching is evoked by, and applied to, the events of everyday life. In this connection;, the repeated words "for you" and "unto you" are precious and significant. They draw attention to the contrast between what men thought of Peter's readers and what God had seen fit to do for them. The inheritance is reserved "for you", 1. 4; Christ was manifested "for you", 1. 20; Christ suffered "for you", 2. 21 R.V.; the grace which the prophets foretold is come "unto you", 1. 10; the fulfilment of the prophetic word is preached "unto you", 1.12,25; the preciousness of the Living Stone is "unto you", 2. 7. These expressions emphasize, for the peculiar and special need of the readers, what is stressed throughout Scripture, that God has a special interest in the poor, oppressed and needy among men.

5.    This practical value of the Epistle is emphasized by the vividness of some, of Peter's allusions to incidents and conver­sations relating to the days spent in company with the Lord Jesus. He draws material for his teaching not only from studying the Scriptures, but also from his own failing ex­perience and faltering steps in those days. When he writes about the inheritance, for example, would he recall the reply of the Master to his question in Matthew 19. 27, "what shall we have therefore?"? When he describes the sinless reactions of the Lord Jesus to suffering, 1 Pet. 2. 23, he must surely have felt the keen edge of the contrast between that and his own failures in resorting to violence in the garden, John 18. 10, and to lying in the palace, v. 17. Such incidents and conversa­tions provide one of the principal sources from which Peter draws practical material for his Epistle,

6. Another source from which he draws widely is the Old Testament. There is, throughout the Epistle, an obvious overtone of contrast between the fading and failure of the old dispensation and the fulness and fulfilment of the new. This intentional emphasis is highlighted again and again in references to Old Testament passages and ideas: by direct quotation, 1.16,24-25; 2. 6,7,8,9,10; by allusion to "proph­ets", 1. 10, to the redemption price, 1. 18, to the temple and priesthood, 2. 5, and to the once frustrated but now fulfilled hope, 2. 9. This feature of the Epistle is designed to make a special appeal to Jewish Christians whose allegiance to Christ was maintained with the apparent sacrifice of all the privileges which were thought to belong to them as God's earthly people. How wonderful for them to be reminded that they were now, in fact, the real possessors of all the promises of God, and that these promises were guaranteed, not by their own faithfulness to a rigorous code of behaviour morally and ceremonially, but by the accomplished work of the Son of God.

Today, the times ahead may be menacing and, if the Lord Jesus does not come or intervene to stay the tide of evil, may make increasing demands upon the endurance of the godly. If that does prove to be so, we shall do well to have a firm grasp of the nature and scope of God's work and purpose which, based upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus, nothing can thwart. The word comes to us, in our day as in theirs, "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ".