1 Peter 4:12-5:14
The final four paragraphs of 1 Peter can be easily identified as 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:1-5; 5:6-11; and 5:12-14. The primary structural question is whether the two paragraphs found in 1 Peter 5:1-11 belong to the section that began in 1 Peter 3:13 or form a separate major portion of 1 Peter. The theme of suffering and the correct Christian response has been a significant part of the content of 1 Peter since chapter 2. First Peter 2:13-3:12 can be identified as a separate major section of the letter because it addresses specific groups of people such as slaves, wives, and husbands. It is difficult to determine a major division in the content of 1 Peter 3:13-5:11. Because it is difficult to determine precisely where Peter passes from one major point to the next, we will deal with 1 Peter 4:12-5:11 as part of the final major point of the book that began in 3:13.
The Fiery Ordeal - 1 Peter 4:12-19
Peter here addresses his readers as beloved. The same address was used in 1 Peter 2:11 where it began a new section of the letter. However, in 2:11 the word beloved was followed by the expression "I urge you," which was a common phrase indicating a new section in ancient letters. The absence of "I urge you" here in 1 Peter 4:12 shows that Peter does not intend to begin a new section of the letter. Rather, the tender word beloved is designed to ease the shock of the following words. Two commands, one negative and one positive, demand a deeper level of commitment from Peter's readers. Verse 12 commands that they not be surprised at their mistreatment and verse 13 commands that they rejoice in the midst of their suffering. Both commands are not easy to obey, and Peter attempts to soften the blow of the double demand by his tender word of address.
The command to not be surprised in verse 12 stands in opposition to the comment of 1 Peter 4:4 that the readers' unchristian neighbors will be surprised at the new, righteous behavior of their converted neighbors. Peter asks his readers to surprise their neighbors by withdrawing from sinful behavior, but to not be surprised by the persecution or pressure that will then be inflicted by those same neighbors.
The verb translated surprised here has the same root as the word "strange," which is why the King James Version translates, "Think it not strange." There is a play on words with the final phrase of verse 12. "Do not think it strange . . . as if something strange were happening to you." It is our natural reaction to consider anything painful as strange and unusual and therefore as unacceptable. Peter has a different perspective. From his Jewish background he was able to draw upon a tradition of Scriptural and other wise writings to understand persecution. His gentile readers did not have that resource.
Peter describes what his readers were facing as a fiery ordeal. The Greek word that he uses was fairly common in New Testament times and had a range of meanings. It meant "burning" or the action of fire such as cooking and searing of a wound. It was used of the process of purifying metals by fire and of the result of destruction of a city by fire. It was also used figuratively of a fierce testing of people. It is this figurative use that appears to be in Peter's mind.
There is no evidence that his readers were actually being tortured by fire, which would become a common persecution in later Christian history. It is possible that Peter had Proverbs 27:21 in mind. The Greek translation of that verse reads, "A fiery ordeal is the proof for silver and gold, but a man is proved by the mouth of those who praise him."
This use of fire or a fiery ordeal as a figurative expression for the testing of human beings was further developed in the inter-testamental period. During that time Judaism faced incredible persecution designed to destroy Jewish faith. The inter-testamental book of the Wisdom of Solomon 3:5-6 states, "God tested them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he proved them and as a burnt offering he received them." This statement is particularly interesting since the first verse of that same chapter reads, "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them." One of the ways Judaism learned to cope with persecution was to believe that God was in control of it rather than the persecutors. Tortured Jews proudly proclaimed to their tormentors that God had granted them the special privilege of torture to prove their faithfulness to Him.
Another inter-testamental passage, Sirach 2:5, declares, "Gold is proven by fire, and men become acceptable by the furnace of humiliation." This Jewish tradition of understanding suffering as managed by God allowed the apostle Paul to write in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "God is faithful; he will not permit you to be tested beyond what you are able to bear, but with the testing he will make a way out in order that you may be able to endure." Peter's gentile readers did not have that resource of understanding. But Peter was confident that persecution would not be the end of world for them, or the end of the Christian faith. First Peter 2:9 had applied a great list of Old Testament descriptions of the people of God to the readers of this letter. Now, 4:12 applies to the readers the Old Testament and Jewish concept of suffering and persecution as a fiery testing of God's people to see how strong their faith is.
It is possible to develop an unhealthy desire for suffering and persecution. In the few hundred years after Peter wrote this letter there were Christians who welcomed martyrdom. Their final testimonies reveal an almost suicidal desire for the status that being a martyr would give them following their death. However, it is equally unhealthy to seek to avoid suffering and persecution at any cost. Contemporary Western Christians seem to have spiritual amnesia about the price by which the Christian faith has survived, flourished, and been passed on to us through history. The whining and crying to God for relief from the minor pressures of life reflects an anemic faith when compared to the ability our spiritual fathers and mothers had to endure outright rejection and persecution. Our sharing of contemporary culture's anti-history and anti-tradition feelings has weakened our ability to stand fast for the faith without complaining. We would do well to re-learn the history of God's people and to focus on the way our spiritual ancestors stood up to persecution and suffering. The resources of Jewish tradition gave Peter and Paul insights and understanding that the new Gentile believers did not share. We need to discover the rich resources of our tradition.
If the negative command, do not be surprised, in verse 12 were not enough, Peter then gave the positive command to rejoice in verse 13. However, the command is not to rejoice masochistically about suffering. Rather, the readers are to rejoice to the degree that they share the sufferings of Christ. Peter was not appealing to his readers to seek persecution. But if and when it came they should rejoice that suffering gave them an opportunity to become partners with Christ in pain.
There is no hint here that Peter believed that Christian suffering would atone for sin as the death of Christ did. What he saw was that suffering made it possible for his readers to enter into union with Christ more fully than they could without suffering. In fact, if their suffering was unjust (as 1 Peter 2:19-21 said it had better be) it offered a more realistic way of being united with Christ in suffering.
The opportunity to rejoice because of union with Christ's suffering was an important privilege for Peter's readers. But beyond rejoicing over union with Christ's suffering was the possibility of rejoicing over union with Christ's victory. The final part of verse 13 points this out. When Christ's glory is revealed believers not only will rejoice, they will shout exultantly. That is because the union with Christ created in shared suffering will hold fast in the time of share glory. This is a common theme in the apostle Paul. Philippians 3:9-11 and Romans 6:1-9 and 8:17 are notable examples.
Verse 14 is built on the beatitude of Jesus found in Matthew 5:11 and Luke 6:22. However, Peter moves beyond the statement of blessing when we are insulted for Christ's sake. Different ancient manuscripts have different wordings for the final part of verse 14. Probably the best way to understand Peter's words is that he says the Spirit of glory and of God rest upon you. The Holy Spirit is the way the future glory of Christ is experienced by believers now.
Paul was thinking along these lines when he described the Spirit as "earnest" or "guarantee" in 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; and Ephesians 1:14. Jesus had promised in Matthew 10:19-20 that persecuted believers would not need to worry about what to say in their own defense for the Spirit of God would speak through them. Peter's comment is that when they were reviled, insulted, and rejected the Holy Spirit would rest on them. The prepositional phrase on you suggests the meaning of rest for the final verb of verse 14. However, the natural meaning of that verse is "refresh" or "give rest." It is also true that in the midst of pressure the Holy Spirit is the one who refreshes us and grants us renewal in the midst of the storm. That refreshment is a foretaste of what the glory of Christ will do all the time when it is finally revealed at the end of time.
Suffering is only a source of blessing to the degree that the believer is united to Christ in his unjust suffering. Peter is clear that some people deserve to suffer and their suffering brings no blessing and is no cause for rejoicing. Thus in verse 15 he demands that none of his readers suffer for being a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even a meddler. Davids (pp. 168-169) points out that this final word, meddler, may be Peter's real concern. In terms of communication theory Peter knew that his readers would agree with him in rejecting the suffering of murderers, thieves, and criminals. The emphasis on holiness in the earlier sections of the letter showed how inconsistent such violent crimes would be for Christians.
However, Peter also insists that suffering as a meddler is equally worthless. The Greek word translated by the NIV and NASB (and John Wesley) as "meddler" has not yet been found in any Greek writings earlier than 1 Peter though a few later writings use the word. It is possible that Peter coined the word himself. The King James Version translated the word as "busybody" while the RSV and NRSV used "mischief maker." The roots of the Greek word suggest a person who appoints himself or herself to oversee the lives of others.
The major recent commentators all agree that Peter was warning his readers against setting themselves up as public judges of pagan society. Compared to previous eras of history the Roman Empire was tolerant of a wide variety of religious, philosophical, and person viewpoints. In return Roman culture expected groups and persons to mind their own business of life. Persecution generally happened when some group or person became so obnoxious in pushing their viewpoint that it upset the balance of Roman tolerance. Peter seems to have been aware of this cultural assumption of the Roman Empire. As a Jew he knew that Rome tolerated Judaism when earlier empires had not. Thus he is warning his readers against violating the way that their culture expected a witness to be carried out. Davids (p. 169) puts it well when he comments, "Gentle persuasion is one thing; denouncing idolatry in a temple courtyard is another, as might as be interfering in the affairs of another family, however well meaning it might be. No Christian should disgrace Christ by being guilty of such things." Some persecution is the direct result of Christians failing to heed the command of Jesus in Matthew 10:16 to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Peter saw no blessing in persecution when Jesus' words of warning were ignored.
Verse 16 returns to the thought of verses 12-14 with the additional point that suffering enables the believer to glorify God by bearing his name. Verse 17 introduces another reason for suffering; it is the sign of God's judgment that begins with God's people. Once again Peter was drawing on Old Testament and intertestamental Jewish tradition. Jeremiah 25:29 warned that God was bringing judgment on all the inhabitants of the earth, but it would begin in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 9:3-6 commands a mark to be put on those who grieve over the disobedience of God's people. Executioners were then commanded to pass through the city and to kill everyone who did not have the mark. Ezekiel 9:6 commands the executioners, "Begin at my sanctuary."
The intertestamental Jewish literature provides more examples. Judaism believed God would begin the judgment of the world by judging his own people. This judgment of his own would be a purifying judgment, but the judgment of the world would be a terrifying time of destruction. Peter saw the persecution of his readers as a sign that judgment was beginning. If it began with them there would be the pain of purification, but that was nothing compared to what would soon be suffered by those outside the gospel.
His conclusion in verse 19 has two important points. Those who are suffering should entrust their lives to a faithful God. Here again Peter's confidence shines through. He believed that God was in control of human history. The forces of evil being unleashed against his readers could not go beyond the boundaries and purposes already established for them by God. Rather than fearing or complaining about persecution and persecutors Peter counsels trusting God. If we will place our lives in his hands then we need not worry about whatever comes our way. God holds the deposit of ourselves in safe keeping. He will care for us in a way that has our ultimate good in mind.
Secondly, Peter again urges his readers to continue to do good. God's purpose may well be accomplished despite us. However, there is no reason we cannot share in his purpose. Our role, then, is not to figure out where this or that persecution puts us in God's timetable. Rather, our role is to continue to do good. To live lives of redemptive holiness is the reason we were placed here. Regardless of pressure, persecution, rejection (or being ignored) our task remains the same.
An Appeal to the Elders - 1 Peter 5:1-5
First Peter 5:1-5 turns from general instructions to all Peter's readers in Asia Minor to specific words to the church leadership. Some interpreters fail to see the relation of these verses to both the preceding and following contexts. As a result they view the opening section of chapter 5 as unrelated to the issue of suffering that has been the subject since chapter 2. However, as Davids (p. 174) notes the paragraph before and the paragraph after deal with suffering. The most logical conclusion is that these instructions to the elders should be understood as instructions about how to help a church that is under persecution.
Peter's concern seems to be that the church stays together. The way that they will be able to hang together is for leaders to exercise Christ like leadership and other believers to accept that leadership. In-fighting in the church over authority will quickly destroy the desire to bear up under sufferings together. (Such in-fighting destroys churches regardless of the kind of pressure the church faces.)
Peter begins by identifying himself in three ways. He is a fellow-elder. This is the only place in the New Testament where this specific word appears but it is similar in construction to words Paul used to describe his ministry team: fellow-worker, fellow-soldier, fellow-slave, and fellow-prisoner. Rather than using an exalted title for himself Peter chooses a word that expressed empathy and solidarity with the leaders of the churches to which he was writing. Second, Peter describes himself as a witness of the suffering of Christ. The Greek expression could be understood in two ways. It might mean a witness who saw the sufferings of Christ. We do not know whether Peter would describe himself in this way since the gospels imply that he had fled and did not watch the crucifixion of Jesus. The expression might also mean a witness who proclaimed the suffering of Christ. That meaning was certainly true of Peter and 1 Peter 4:13 shows it to be true even in his writing of this letter. Thus Peter again identifies himself with the readers. He is one who has done what he asks them to do in witnessing to the sufferings of Christ.
The third way that Peter describes himself in verse 1 is that he is one who shares in the glory to be revealed. Here he uses the same language of partnership that he had used in 1 Peter 4:13. His partnership in the glory to be revealed is not a super pious claim of his reward in heaven. Rather Peter saw himself as united with Christ in his sufferings and in his glory. His language in 1 Peter 5:1 connects him to what he had told his readers in 4:13. Thus in verse 1 Peter models himself what he is about to ask the elders of the churches to model. This is a significant quality of Christian leadership.
Verse 2 calls on the elders to shepherd the flock of God that is among you. Verse 4 points to the ultimate role modeling of Christ as the chief shepherd. Jesus himself had claimed the title of good shepherd in John 10:1-21. The Old Testament background of Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34 had provided the foundation for Jesus' claim to the title of good shepherd. Leadership in the church of Jesus Christ can never improve on the model provided by Christ himself. Thus Peter uses the language of shepherding to describe the responsibility of the elders to whom he wrote. The power of this image of leadership can be seen by the fact that the title "pastor" has been the most persistent way of referring to Christian leaders throughout church history. The present fad of rejecting pastoral and shepherding imagery in favor of management language will not survive the tests of time. If not before, forthcoming persecution will return the title of pastor to prominence.
The motivation for pastoral leadership is not compulsion, financial gain, or the opportunity to exercise authority. The motivation is willing obedience to God. The result will be examples of Christ-like living before the church being led. Good leadership has always been a problem for the church. In times of pressure and persecution it was tempting for leaders to hold back and downplay their role. After all, few people want to stand in first place among a group that could be condemned to death at any minute. In times when there was no persecution people were attracted to church leadership for the wrong reasons. It has been said that a group usually gets the leadership that it deserves. Peter addresses that concern in verse 5.
The congregation must accept the leadership of the leaders. That assumes that the elders lead in the way Peter prescribed in verses 1-4. Failure to respond to leadership fragments the church and its witness and weakens our ability to stand against the pressures that are rising against us. Peter's final prescription in this section is humility. Compared to Christ none of us has room for any attitude other than humility. If we will respond to each other in humility the church will have a chance to be, in fact, the body of Christ in the world.
The Final Exhortation - 1 Peter 5:6-11
In the final verses of the body of 1 Peter the subject returns to suffering. Verse 6 begins where verse 5 had concluded with an emphasis on humility. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that he may exalt you in due time connects 1 Peter 5:1-5 with 4:12-19. Humility had been the climax of the instructions to the elders. The contrast between humbling oneself and being exalted by God parallels the contrast between being united with Christ's suffering and united with his glory that is to be revealed.
The Greek word for due time means a strategic time and was probably used with the second coming in mind. Coupled with the command to humble oneself is the process of casting all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. It should be noted that verse 7 is constructed in the second person plural. Peter is not calling for individuals to cast their personal burdens on Christ. Rather he is instructing the churches to cast their shared concerns and worries on the Lord. In the context of this book that corporate concern would be the fear of persecution. The worry of the church is not just the burdens of individuals and their fear of death, but also the concern that the body of believers not be destroyed and no witness left for Christ. But Christ is concerned for all of us in his church and if we will entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator as commanded in 1 Peter 4:19, then we will be cared for.
Verse 8 begins with two quick commands, discipline yourselves, keep alert. The word discipline means to be clear-headed. It is sometimes translated as "be sober." However, the idea is not sobriety as opposed to drunkenness but the clear-headed, clear-thinking state that comes from being free from mental confusion. This clear-headed approach allows alertness. Alertness is necessary because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. It is likely that Peter saw the devil operating through the persecutors of his readers. Persecution was the way the devil would devour them. However, if they would remain alert they need not live in paralyzed fear of him. Rather they are to actively resist him, steadfast in your faith. As in James 4:7 and Ephesians 6:10-12 resisting the devil means to stand up against him. Peter's language reflects the general early Christian understanding that believers were to envision themselves as soldiers in a courageous battle against evil. The soldier virtue of steadfastness in the face of fire will be effective in resisting the devil.
The analogy of the soldier continues with Peter's comment that brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering throughout the world. The battle between Christ and evil is joined throughout the Christian world. Steadfastness in our portion of the battle helps those fighting on different fronts. The promise of verse 10 is that the suffering is temporary, that God is gracious, that God has called us into this battle, and he will restore, support, strengthen, and establish us. That is a sufficient promise to encourage us to remain faithful and to entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator.
Closing Salutations - 1 Peter 5:12-14
Peter quickly closes the letter with an announcement that Silvanus has been his scribe to write the letter and with greetings. Babylon is almost universally recognized as a code name for Rome. The church at Rome sends greetings along with Mark. Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24, and 2 Timothy 4:11 connect Mark with Paul in Rome. It is most appropriate that Peter's final words in this letter about holiness and suffering are peace to all of you who are in Christ. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, is fully capable of guarding us and enabling us to stand up to whatever pressure may come our way.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are a review of the entire Bible Study. Note: This Bible Study was originally written as a companion to the Voice Bible Study on Hebrews. As a result, these final reflection questions include the Book of Hebrews.
As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through his Word and for the Holy Spirit to make the Scripture come alive to you that day. You may wish to spread this final review study of Hebrews and 1 Peter out over a longer period of time than 6 days.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Peter 4:12-5:14. Look up the Scripture references that are given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that were important to you. Describe why they were important.
2. Select a truth that has a personal application in your life. Tell how it applies to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you live a life that entrusting yourself to him as your faithful Creator.
Second Day: Read Hebrews 1-4.
1. What is the main idea that you get from reading chapter 1. How does that idea relate to what you now know about the book of Hebrews?
2. What teachings in chapter 2 especially apply to the Christian life? Which of those teachings is most important for your life right now? Why?
3. What characteristics of Jesus does the author of Hebrews paint for you in chapters 3 and 4? Which of those characteristics speaks most powerfully to you?
4. What is the author's point about "rest" in chapters 3 and 4? Write a brief prayer telling God your desires to enter that rest.
Third Day: Read Hebrews 5-7.
1. What insights into Christ as high priest does chapter 5 present? Explain in your own words what it means to you to have Jesus as your high priest.
2. What does Hebrews 5:11-6:8 teach about the importance of spiritual growth and development? Write a brief prayer expressing your desire to "go on to perfection" in the light of these verses.
3. Hebrews 6:19 describes Jesus as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. Has the study of Hebrews and 1 Peter helped the anchor hold more firmly in your life? Describe how God has worked in your life through this study.
4. Summarize the argument of Hebrews 7 in your own words. What is the most important meaning for you of Jesus being a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek? How does that apply in your life?
Fourth Day: Read Hebrews 8-10.
1. What characteristics of the new covenant are described in Hebrews 8? In all of Hebrews? What characteristics of the new covenant are you aware of that are not mentioned in Hebrews? Summarize the meaning of the new covenant in your own words in one sentence.
2. What truths about Christ are especially taught in Hebrews 9? Why are these truths important to you?
3. What ideas appear in Hebrews 10:1-19 that are not found in chapter 9? How important is the idea of sanctification to the author of Hebrews? How important is it to you? What would you give to be one of "those who are sanctified?"
4. What real life applications of his teaching does the author make in Hebrew 10:18-39? What real life applications can you make of his teachings?
Fifth Day: Read Hebrews 11-13.
1. Who is your favorite faith hero in Hebrews 11? Why? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to form such faithfulness in your life.
2. From your perspective what is the most important verse in Hebrews 12? Describe why that verse is more important to you than any other verse in chapter 12.
3. Hebrews 13 commands respect for Christian leaders and offering a sacrifice of praise. Describe how those two commands are related to each other and can both be fulfilled in your life.
Sixth Day: Read 1 Peter 1-5.
1. How does the call to be holy in 1 Peter 1:15-16 fit into the context of the whole letter? What would need to be different in your life if you were to take the call to holiness more seriously?
2. What do 1 Peter 2:1-3:12 have to say about life in the church? What things should be different in your church on the basis of these verses? What do you need to do to begin to bring those changes about?
3. Summarize in your own words the teaching of 1 Peter 3:13-5:11 on suffering. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord for his help in the pressures of life you are facing. Also write your commitment to persevere in your faith despite the pressures you are feeling.