For the past few months I have been teaching through the letter of 1 Peter. I have been taking it slow and really delving into the Greek language and syntax, something I call teaching “seminary style.” I believe it has been very rewarding for myself and the church. It just goes to show that when you rush through a chapter or a book there is a lot you might be missing.
What is fascinating about 1 Peter is the way the first two and a half chapters can be outlined (1:3-3:12). After a brief introduction in 1:1-2, Peter goes on in 1:3-12 to explain to his audience how great their salvation is. He assures them that their “new birth into a living hope” (1:3) guarantees them of their salvation, which is “imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading,” and being “kept in heaven” for them (1:4)—no person or thing is ever going to take it away.
But guess what? With great privilege comes great responsibility. Peter goes on in 1:13-3:12 to explain to the believers three different relationships they have as a result of their salvation. First of all, in 1:13-21, they have a relationship with God, their Savior. In 1:15-16 Peter says that believers are to be holy in all their conduct. Why? Because God said so. More than once in Leviticus He said, “Be holy because I am holy.” In light of our salvation, we are to live holy lives in the sight of God.
Along the same lines, 1:17 commands believers to conduct themselves in fear. And all throughout 1 Peter, fear refers to a healthy fear of God. The fear of God is sometimes a confusing subject, which stems from the fact that it covers two extremes. On the one hand, to fear God means to honor Him and respect Him and be in awe of Him. But on the other hand, it does carry the idea of literal fear. Why should we be afraid of God? Because He is our judge (1:17); He is the One who holds our destiny in His hands. That in and of itself will make us honor Him and live in awe of Him, so you can see how the two extremes fit together.
So we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to live a life pleasing to God.
Secondly, in 1:22-2:10, Peter discusses a believer’s relationship with other believers (specifically their local church gathering). The main command is found in 1:22, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And if a group of believers truly loves one another, then, as commanded in 2:1, there will be no wickedness, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander among them.
In 2:9a Peter reminds believers of who they are. As a group, as a church, as a local congregation, they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession.” And then, in 2:9b, with his “so that…” statement, Peter gives us the reason for this. Why, as a group, are we God’s chosen people? “So that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”
Here we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to love other believers and join them in praising God.
Finally, in 2:11-3:12, Peter addresses believers’ relationships with outsiders, those considered pagans, those who are not believers. He begins in 2:11-12 with an introductory statement commanding believers to “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles (non-believers), so that (purpose statement) in a case where they speak against you as those who do evil, they may, by observing your good works, glorify God in a day of visitation.” In this we see two things: (1) Our conduct needs to be outstanding and God-fearing whether we are among believers or non-believers, and (2) The goal of that conduct toward outsiders is so that they might observe our lifestyle and glorify God as a result (including their salvation.)
From 2:13-3:7, Peter goes on to give three specific examples. The first is a citizen’s relationship with the government. I know lots of people have a difficult time dealing with our current US government. Let me tell you something: It is no worse now than it was for Peter’s audience living in first-century Rome under the authority of Caesar and his client kings. And Peter’s command to believers is to submit to their government, even specifically to Caesar the emperor/king (3:13). Why should believers submit to pagan rulers, whether back then or still today? “For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people” (3:15). As God’s people we are to submit to our governing authorities. The only case in which this command is to be broken is when the government contradicts the word of God. When that becomes the situation, we should say with Peter and the apostles: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The second example is within the master/slave relationship. The situation Peter has in mind is a believing slave under the authority of an unbelieving master. Peter commands slaves in this situation to submit to their masters (2:18), even if they are mistreated and are suffering. Why? Because by doing this they will be following the example of Christ, who also suffered unjustly (2:21-25.) Also, based on the introductory statement in 2:12 (see above), the intended result is for the master to observe the slaves behavior, understand that it is because of his relationship with Christ, and be converted.
The last example involves the husband/wife marriage relationship. In 3:1 wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. Once again, the situation Peter has in mind is that of a believing wife and an unbelieving husband. Why should a Christian wife submit to her unbelieving husband? Once again Peter has a “so that…” statement: “so that…they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live, when they observe your pure, reverent (God-fearing) lives” (3:1-2). In a similar fashion, husbands (believing husbands, that is), should show their wives “honor” (3:7). Why? Because both husbands and wives are “co-heirs of the grace of life.” Even though the Bible prescribes that the husband is the leader of the marriage and the family, both husband and wife stand on equal ground when it comes to Christ. Both are in need of His grace. They are co-heirs of eternal life.
In 3:8-12 Peter summarizes our relationships with outsiders, commanding us not to repay “evil for evil or insult for insult” (3:9) but to instead, as Jesus said, “Bless those who curse us.” In fact, Peter says that as believers we were “called for this” (3:9). Once again, it all goes back to the fact that no matter how we have been treated, our responsibility is to treat people in a manner that points them to Christ.
In this case, we see that our salvation comes with the responsibility to live our lives in a way that others, especially non-believers, can easily tell that we serve Christ and strive to please Him with every step we take and every word we speak.
When you think about it, that is a pretty good way to look at our relationships as believers. First of all, we have a relationship with our Savior. Because He has graciously saved us, He has expectations of us. We are not saved to sit around, we are saved to serve Him. Secondly, we have relationships with other believers. Fellow believers need to love one another earnestly and treat each other with respect. And finally, we also have relationships with those who are not part of the body of Christ. Our main goal when it comes to them is to see their repentance and salvation.
I know this might be a lot to take in, but take a second to think about it. I’m sure it won’t take you long to identify relationships you have that fit into these categories. And once you identify them, compare the way you handle those relationships with the way the word of God instructs us to. How do they match up? What may need to be changed? May we be challenged and may we be changed by God and His word!