Peter was one of 12 apostles chosen by Jesus. Along with Paul, Peter came to be one of the primary leaders of the early church. Paul was mainly assigned to reach Gentiles, while Peter ministered mainly to Jews. Peter wrote this letter from Rome towards the end of his life to a diverse group of both Jews and Gentiles living in an area called Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. The Emperor at the time was a man named Nero, and Nero was becoming increasingly suspicious of Christians. This would soon turn into outright hostility and persecution. Peter himself would be martyred in Rome around 64 AD. But the people he was writing to were feeling the heat starting to turn up. Repeatedly he talks about how to endure suffering because a “fiery ordeal” was about to begin (4:13). So the purpose of this letter was to prepare these people to live in a culture at odds with their faith.
You can read five different commentaries on 1 Peter and find that each outlines this letter differently. Our series on 1 Peter was thirteen weeks long and we divided the preaching passage up in the following way:
Series Title: Exiles: Hope Between Two Worlds
Text: 1 Peter 1:1-2
Title: Opening Greeting
Big Idea: Because you are the people of God, you can experience the grace and peace of God.
Text: 1 Peter 1:3-12
Big Idea: We can praise God because of our inheritance in Christ, the joy we have in trials, and the fulfilled hope we have in Christ.
Text: 1 Peter 1:13-21
Title: Hope and Obedience
Big Idea: Because we are children of God, we have hope for the future, and we can live holy lives in the present.
Text: 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Title: Love and Purity
Big Idea: We should show love for fellow believers because we’ve been purified from sin and born again thru God’s Word.
Text: 1 Peter 2:4-10
Title: The Spiritual House and the Chosen People
Big Idea: As the people of God, we’re called to declare his holiness.
Text: 1 Peter 2:11-12
Title: Strangers in the World
Big Idea: As beloved exiles, we’re called to fight sin and live a godly life.
Text: 1 Peter 2:13-17
Title: The Ruling Authorities
Big Idea: We’re to submit to others so we can silence our accusers.
Text: 1 Peter 2:18-25
Title: Slaves and Masters
Big Idea: We should endure unjust suffering by following the example of Jesus who entrusted his care and protection to his heavenly Father.
Text: 1 Peter 3:1-7
Title: Wives and Husbands
Big Idea: Wives should submit to their unbelieving husbands, and husbands should treat their wives with understanding and respect.
Text: 1 Peter 3:8-12
Title: Doing Good
Big Idea: We will love life and see good days by remembering we are called to be a blessing.
Text: 1 Peter 3:13-22
Title: Suffering for Doing Good
Big Idea: We should be encouraged because if we endure unjust suffering we can accomplish God’s triumphant purposes in our fallen world.
Text: 1 Peter 4:1-6
Title: Living for God
Big Idea: Resolving to endure suffering in union with Christ leads to life lived in the will of God.
Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11
Title: How to Live When the End is Near
Big Idea: In these last days, we’re called to pray, love, show hospitality, and serve one another with our gifts, all for the glory of God.
Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19
Title: Suffering, Joy, and Judgment
Big Idea: We can rejoice in suffering by entrusting ourselves to God.
Text: 1 Peter 5:1-5
Title: Godly Eldership
Big Idea: Elders are to faithfully shepherd the flock of God with a view to receiving a crown of glory from the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Text: 1 Peter 5:6-14
Title: Advice, Encouragement, and Final Greetings
Big Idea: We will get through suffering by knowing we’re safe and secure in God’s hand.
1 Peter is epistolary literature so it is fairly straight forward in its application. One of the biggest issues in 1 Peter is how followers of Jesus should live in a society and culture that is hostile to them. Peter doesn’t tell us to blend into our culture. Nor does he tells us to withdraw or separate from society. Nor does he tell us to go to war with our culture. Instead, Peter calls us to what Russell Moore labels, “engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens.” Much of our series in 1 Peter was focused on living out this tension between being in the world but not of the world.
Another challenge in teaching this letter is that often in North America we don’t experience the level of persecution and trials that Peter and his first century readers did. It can be helpful to remind listeners that there are still many persecuted Christians in this world. We even connected our people with ministries that are praying for and supporting the persecuted church. At the same time, 1 Peter is a great letter to both prepare us for the persecution and suffering that may come our way in the future, as well as evaluate our own lives as whether or not we are living boldly and winsomely for Christ in a way that could invite alienation and persecution.
Comfort and Hope Amidst Suffering: Believers can rejoice amidst suffering because Christ also suffered and this world is not their home. In fact, trials actually purify a believer’s faith. Believers have a living hope in heaven that can never spoil or fade.
The Continuity Between the Old and the New Covenants: The salvation that Peter writes about is nothing new, it was pointed to by prophets of old.
The Gift of Salvation: Believers have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, and saved by the resurrection of Jesus, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand. Baptism is the sign of that salvation.
Godly Living: Believers are to live holy lives as God’s chosen people. This holiness should carry over into their marriages, work, and response to governing authorities. If they suffer, let it not be because they’ve done wrong. As believers live their lives in this world, they are to shine as lights.
The Church Is a Holy Priesthood: The church is a spiritual house with each member a living stone. Believers are to love one another deeply and from the heart. Churches are to be led by faithful elders who shepherd the flock of God well.
Our Spiritual Enemy: Peter reminds believers that their enemy the devil is real and seeks to devour them.
The End Is Near: This is true whether God brings history to a close at the Second Coming of Jesus or whether persecution ends mortal lives.
My Encounter with 1 Peter
We called this series “Exiles: Hope Between Two Worlds.” We felt the phrase “elect exiles” best describes what Peter says about what we are in the world and how we’re called to live. Peter uses both of those words to describe his readers in the first verse of the letter, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces ….”
Those two words, “elect exiles,” don’t seem to belong together. It’s like saying we’re at the same time the most despised and looked down upon in all the world, and yet the richest and most blessed in Jesus Christ. Peter isn’t saying these believers in Asia Minor are exiles in a political sense, rather because of their faith in Jesus they’d been marginalized by the society around them. Because their values and way of life under King Jesus were so different, they were dislocated, and their true citizenship was in another place.
In this sense all followers of Jesus are exiles because we don’t fit into the world. We live according to the norms of another country because our citizenship is in heaven. And we have great hope. Our desire in this series was to lead people into this experience of alienation accompanied by hopeful engagement.
Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005)