As with all of our lessons in the New Testament, we will begin our study of Peter’s first letter by examining its structure. First, the author of this letter and his rank is revealed. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Second, the recipients of this letters are recorded. Many versions reorder this sentence a number of ways, but the literally, word for word translation is: “To the elect pilgrims of the dispersion.” Many versions move the word “chosen” to the end of verse 1 so that verse 2 becomes a description about how we are chosen. A great example of this movement is found in the NASU: “To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.” This is simply not how the original text records Peter’s words. The ESV seems to be the most literal translation of the text: “To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 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.” Finally, Peter’s salutation to the chosen pilgrims of the dispersion: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
Verses 3-5 contain the thanksgiving section as Peter offers praise to God who has brought numerous blessings through his mercy. Peter says we have been born to a living hope of an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance reserved in heaven. This section of thanksgiving leads us into the body of Peter’s letter. Peter is going to write about three important topics: salvation, submission, and suffering.
Peter says that the elect of the dispersion are able to rejoice in their inheritance even though they are suffering for a little while. Peter ties suffering to the perfecting of faith toward salvation. In verse 7 Peter says that what they were suffering was the testing of the genuineness of their faith bringing about the salvation of their souls (verse 10).
At this point, Peter talks about the greatness of the salvation they have obtained. Prophets for hundreds of years spoke about the coming grace of God desiring to know when God would bring this salvation to fulfillment. This good news was something that even angels longed to look. Therefore we have a precious salvation offered to us. We stand at a unique moment in time where we are receiving that salvation which the prophets spoke about and angels desired to comprehend. These facts lead to Peter’s first argument in the letter.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action (1:13). Literally, “gird up the loins of your mind.” But we do not gird up our loins anymore. But back in the days of the first century, you had to tuck in your garment to do work. The long flowing robe would be tucked into the belt, to free the person up to perform an activity. Peter says that the readers were to do this to their minds. Get the mind ready for action. What do we have to get our minds ready to accomplish?
Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance (vs. 14). We cannot go back to the former lifestyle. Prepare the mind to never return to way we used to live. Our lusts and our passions must be put to death. Therefore, Peter declares:
As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (vs. 15). Holiness is the standard for Christian living. Holiness implies living a different life. There must be a distinct separation in what our life looked like before Christ and what it looks like now with the grace of God. Further, holiness is a call to purity in life. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” We must regularly prepare our minds for purity. We maintain our purity through obedience to the truth of the word of God.
Love one another earnestly from a pure heart. Further, we are to prepare our minds to love one another deeply. Because we are to be holy people, our actions are to reflect the love of God. All of these actions are to happen “as obedient children” (verse 14). God’s true children will be obedient to the Lord by not being conformed to the passions of this word, being holy just as God is holy, and loving one another with a pure heart.
Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander (2:1). Notice that Peter says that we do these things so that we may “grow up to salvation.” Therefore we see that Peter’s point at the beginning of this letter is to see how their suffering and efforts in righteousness are working toward the salvation of their souls.
Verses 4-12 of chapter 2 describe where we stand with God by his grace. Verse 4 says, “As you come to him….” When we come to Christ there are some great things that God has done for us. (1) As we come to him, we are being built into a spiritual house, as a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. Further, (2) we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession. God’s grace is supposed to be the overriding factor in our actions. Because God has saved us, we are to live honorably among the Gentiles (2:12). Since God has saved us we are to abstain from the passions of the flesh. God is holy and we are to be holy. God has exhibited his love for us and we are to love others from a pure heart. Our actions are to be dictated by what God has already done for each one of us.
Peter turns to the second theme of the book: submission. Since the grace of God has been offered, we have been called to submission in every aspect of our lives.
Submission to the government (2:13-17). Peter declares as Paul does in Romans 13 that the purpose of government is to punish evildoers and uphold justice. We are never to use our freedom as a cover to violate God’s law or the law of the land. Christians are called to obey the laws of the government because God has established the government. Verse 17 has a number of short, difficult commands. (1) Honor everyone. There is no loophole of people that we are do not have to respect and place above ourselves. (2) Love the brotherhood. We already saw Peter give this command in chapter 1 and verse 22: “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (3) Fear God. We often talk about the conflict of government and God. But we need to remember that we fear God through obedience, particularly continue obedience to the government. (4) Honor the emperor. This statement is a staggering statement to me. My jaw hits the ground every time I read about the apostles commanding, not simply obedience, but honor to the emperor. Nero was the emperor from 54-68 A.D. Therefore, it is very likely that Nero is the emperor when Peter says to give him honor. This says a lot about the honor and respect that we are to give to the position of those who rule our country. While we may have scoundrels be in charge, the office deserves honor not slander.
Submission in work (2:18-25). Servants are to work in all respect to the masters. They are not be cheats or crooks. Peter goes on to say that we need to be willing to suffer wrong because we are having the mind of God. Peter reminds Christians of the mistreatment that Jesus endured. He suffered but did not respond in like kind. The key to submission is in entrusting oneself to God who judges justly.
Submission in marriage (3:1-7). Wives are to be submissive to their husbands. Their actions are to win their spouses over to righteousness. Husbands are to do the same, showing her honor and living with her in an understanding way.
Submission to all (3:8-12). Peter explicitly states our need to submit to all people in all circumstances. Peter says to have sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. We are not to repay evil for evil to strangers, to friends, or to family. Instead we are to bless those who curse us.
Conduct in suffering (3:13-17). In the middle of chapter 3 Peter returns to dealing with suffering. Suffering has been the underlying theme of the whole letter. In the first chapter Peter told us that suffering is the perfecting of our faith toward salvation. In chapter 2 Peter said that we are to be submissive even in the face of suffering, even from the government and their masters. Now Peter describes the Christian’s conduct in suffering. Peter says that the Christian must maintain their good behavior in Christ while suffering. Verse 17 is a key argument: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
Christ’s example in suffering (3:18-22). Peter returns to the example of Christ and how he suffered. Peter seems to be reminding the readers that good can come out of suffering. The suffering of Christ brought us to God. Because of Christ’s suffering, we can ask God for a pure conscience through baptism.
Be ready to suffer (4:1-6). Peter points out that Christ suffered in the flesh and we will also suffer for the sake of righteousness if we are living like Christ. People will be surprised that we do not engage in the same activities of the rest of the world. We will suffer for being different, but judgment will come on those who engage in sinful practices.
How to act in suffering (4:7-19). Peter returns to explaining how to act while suffering. (1) Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Maintain one’s self and keep control of the wide range of feelings and emotions that come over us during suffering. (2) When suffering, we need to keep loving one another. We need to keep living our lives properly and we need to see the love from others while we endure suffering. (3) Continue to show hospitality through suffering. (4) Use the gifts that God has given you to serve one another. Peter concludes his discussion on suffering with: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (4:19).
Final Exhortations (5:1-14)
Exhorting the elders (5:1-4). Peter concludes his letter with some final exhortations. To the elders, Peter says they are to shepherd the flock of God by oversight and being an example, not through compulsion or domineering. Leadership through teaching and example, not through force or domination.
Exhorting the flock (5:5-11). Peter tells the flock that they are to submit themselves to the elders. We are to be clothed with humility so that we will listen to the leadership and follow their direction. Finally, resist the devil and his attempts to overthrow your faith. Know that other Christians throughout the world have suffered for the cause of Christ. After we have suffered for a little while, we will be called into the eternal glory in Christ.
Greetings (5:12-14). Verse 12 tells us that Peter is with Silas while this letter is composed. Greetings from a woman in Babylon is also expressed. I believe Babylon is a symbolic statement for the city of Rome, as it is used in the book of Revelation. Just as we saw in the letter to the Hebrews, there seems to be a need for secrecy because of the suffering the Christians are enduring by the hands of their persecutors. Mark also sends his greetings to the recipients of this letter.
- Prepare our minds for action. Peter exhorts us to get our minds ready in 1:13, 3:8, and 4:1. We need to be ready to do good and be ready for the consequences of doing good. People will reject us because of our love for God. Some form of suffering will come for being holy and obedient to the Lord.
- Submit in all areas of life. Peter really wants us to see the need for submission to be pleasing to God. Submit to the government. Submit to your employer. Submit to your spouse. Submit to your brethren.
- Remember Christ’s example of suffering. Christ did not retaliate. In fact, his suffering led to our salvation. He entrusted God to be the righteous judge of those who mistreated him.