The first letter from Saint Peter is explicitly a letter of encouragement (5:12) intended for the scattered Christians amongst the continents (1:1). The encouragement focuses on the daily battle of being a Christian in a world hostile toward God, and highlights the very things we struggle with today, and for that reason, the letter of 1 Peter is every bit as relevant to the 21st century church as it was to the 1st century church.
The main themes of 1 Peter are interwoven and addressed throughout the letter and not necessarily in a specific or sequential order. However, under close examination Peter’s text can be formed into 4 main categories, all of which are delivered with and for the express purpose of encouragement –
- A call to turn from our old way of life (1:18, 2:1, 4:3) and accept the blessing of our new and full identity in Christ (2:5,9,10)
- A call to holy living in the specific relational role that God has given you (2:11-3:7, 5:1-5:5)
- A call to be steady and strong through suffering (1:6, 4:12-4:16, 5:9)
- A call to become who God made you to be (1:14-15, 2:21, 4:7-11, 3:9-16, 3:1-2, 2:12, 5:6)
A Call to turn, and to accept our new identity
Peter was not unaware of the temptations that Christians faced as they began their new life in Christ – primarily the temptation to drift back into their old ways of life (1:14), giving way to the desires of the flesh (2:11, 2:16, 4:3). And so, he battles against this by exposing the futility of that way of living, how it’s end is death, but then by giving an encouraging call to accept what God has in store for you instead.
“Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for awhile.” 1:3-6
And not only does Peter give great reason for hope, but he tells us who we are because of what God has done. We are no longer those dead men and women who have no hope, but rather, we are “living stones (2:5),” “holy priests (2:5),” “a holy nation (2:9),” “God’s possession (2:9),” “God’s people (2:10),” “temporary residents (2:11),” “God’s slaves (2:16).” These are powerful, identity shaping statements that call and beg us to see that we have been made to be so much more than what our flesh is willing to settle for. God has given us great life and hope in Jesus, and Peter calls us to take hold of it.
A Call to holy living in the role God has given you
Peter takes a very pragmatic approach in this letter and lists out some of the most common roles and responsibilities that we have been given (husband (3:7), wife (3:1-6), slave (2:18-20), elder (5:1-4), young men (5:5), under authority (2:13-17), and then specifically calls out how one in those roles ought to live in light of their new identity in Christ. Primarily here this is a call to either 1) accept the authority God has given you and use it with love even if it is hard, or 2) submit to the authority God has placed over you, even if it is hard. The reason Peter gives for why we should live this way is always as a means to be pleasing to God. (Husbands – “So your prayers will not be hindered” 3:7, Wives – “…in God’s sight is very precious.” 3:4, Slave – “God is pleased with you” 2:20, Under Authority – “For the Lord’s sake” 2:13, Elders – “eager to serve God” 5:2) So Peter’s purpose here is to address critical relational roles and show us that we can be pleasing in God’s sight by living them out appropriately.
A Call to be steady and strong amidst suffering
How easy it is for us to believe that we are not in fact pleasing in God’s sight, the moment we begin to go through some form of trial or suffering. Indeed it becomes very easy to imagine that God must be angry with us. But Peter is quick to do battle against this attack from the devil (5:8)- having showed us already through the roles that God has given us, that we are very pleasing to him when we obey him, Peter then also reminds us that “It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian” 4:16, and that these trials are actually a gift as, once we go through them, we see that our faith was genuine (1:6). And not only this but the same trials we are experiencing are being experienced by believers all across the world (5:9). And finally, were that not enough he says that these very trials make us “partners with Christ in his suffering” (4:13). So now we have every reason not to be discouraged when trials come but to embrace them and to be thankful to God for the work he is doing.
A Call to become who God made you to be
If you’ve ever wondered what your purpose, or your calling in life may be, 1 Peter is the first place you should start to seek it out. Throughout the letter, Peter lists over a dozen specific things that God has called each of us to do. Were we to follow these things, I think we would have little time left to try and ponder what our life’s purpose is!
- Do good even if it means suffering, like Jesus did (2:21)
- Follow in Jesus steps, he’s your example (2:21)
- Win unbelievers over through your good behavior (3:1-2, 2:12, 3:16)
- Pay back evil with blessing (3:9)
- Always be ready to explain the reason for your hope (3:15), but do so with gentleness and respect (3:16)
- Be ready to suffer, but with the attitude that Jesus had (4:1)
- So now, stay steady, being obedient and living as you were called. (1:14-15)
- Show deep love for one another (4:8)
- Share your belongings with those in need (4:9)
- Use the gifts God has given you, and use them well for the purpose of serving one another! (4:10)
- Do it with all the strength and energy you have (4:11)
- Trust your life to God, he will never fail you (4:19)
- Humble yourselves under God (5:6)
- Stay alert and watch out for the enemy (5:8)
Love! Share! Do good! Suffer! Pay back evil with Blessing! Be Humble! These are all things that are counter to the desires of our flesh, but it is who God has called us to be. Peter, throughout his letter affirms this and like a coach at halftime he spurs us on in these things.
For the purpose of encouragement
All of these calls to God’s people, Peter places for the purpose of encouragement (5:12). His letter is meant to affirm to God’s followers that what they are going through is a part of God’s plan – and after you’ve remained strong in it, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus is revealed to the whole world (1:7). So step firmly into God’s call!