The apostle Peter wrote a letter to several churches in areas that are now part of Turkey. He greets them as “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter 1:1-2).
In this introduction, Peter mentions that the readers are strangers in the world. They are spiritually different than the people who surround them, and they may be ethnically different, too. If they feel socially isolated and insecure, Peter’s words will help: God chose them long ago. They are not an accident, and they can feel secure in knowing that God has a plan for them.
God has foreknowledge of everyone in one sense, but for reasons we do not fully understand, he chooses some for a special relationship. This choosing is done through the Holy Spirit, and the purpose is that we obey Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his sacrifice.
An eternal inheritance
Peter begins with a doxology: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” The reason for this praise? “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (verse 3). God’s grace has given us a new start in life — a life with confidence in the future, because the resurrection of Jesus has given us evidence that we will also be resurrected into glory through him.
Our new birth also gives us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (verse 4). Because of persecution, the readers could not count on an inheritance in this world, but Peter promises them an even better inheritance — preserved in a safe place: “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (verses 4-5). God protects us, and we will inherit his glory when our salvation comes (verse 9 describes salvation as something we are already in the process of receiving).
“In all this you greatly rejoice,” Peter says, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (verse 6). As strangers in the world, we have trials and persecutions, but we can rejoice in knowing that God has something far better already prepared for us. Even if we enjoy many blessings in this life, we should focus our hopes on spiritual realities rather than the approval of society around us.
Why does God allow these trials? “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (verse 7). Even the best gold eventually perishes, because it will have no value to us after we die. But the value of faith continues forever, and it brings better rewards, so it is worth much more than gold.
Trials can demonstrate that our faith is genuine — that we put more stock in the future life than we do in the present. This kind of faith will bring us praise, glory and honor when Christ returns. Though we may be despised now because of our faith in him, we will have eternal honor because of that same faith.
We have not seen Jesus personally, but we love him and believe in him. This faith fills us “with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for [we] are receiving the end result of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (verses 8-9). Our difficulties are not worth comparing with the indescribable joy that Christ is giving us.
This message of salvation was not a recent invention — it was predicted in the Old Testament, and “the prophets…spoke of the grace that was to come to you” (verse 10). However, the prophets did not understand how it would all happen, and they “searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (verse 11). They knew that glory would come only after sufferings, but they did not know when it would be.
“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (verse 12). Some of the prophecies were for the prophets’ own day, but some were for the time of Christ, and the prophets realized that they were writing important messages for a future generation. And since Christ has been revealed, the prophecies can now be understood more clearly.
Peter is explaining that the gospel message is of tremendous value. If we think we are poor, we are mistaken, for the message is precious, and our faith is better than gold, and the promises will never perish.
Since we have such a great reward, Peter exhorts us: “Set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (verse 13). God has already shown us grace, but he has even more for us when Christ returns. We should set our sights on that, not the things of this world.
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (verse 14). When we come to trust Christ, our behavior should change. When we have faith in the promises God has given us, the temporary pleasures of sin lose their appeal. As children of God, we imitate our heavenly Father: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (verses 15-16, quoting Leviticus 11:44). Our ethics are based on the character of God himself.
“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as strangers here in reverent fear” (verse 17). We should respect and honor our Father, not the changing standards around us. Why?
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (verses 18-19). The values of this world will pass away, but we were purchased with something of much greater value: the blood of Christ.
When we realize what a sacrifice Jesus made for us, we will also begin to understand what a tremendous reward awaits us, for Jesus didn’t pay his huge price just for a small benefit. When we see the price that was paid, we will value the result even more, and that encourages us to live holy lives.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (verses 22-23). Our new life is based on permanence, not temporary pleasures. So we obey the truth, and follow Christ’s way of life — love.
Why? Because “all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (verses 24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6-8). Things of this world are temporary, but the things of God last forever, and we live for eternity. We see our identity and importance from that perspective, not the temporary values of this world.
Things to think about
- Do I feel like a stranger in this world, or do I feel right at home? (verse 1)
- When I have trials, do I have joy in the promises of God? (verse 6)
- What “evil desires” have I grown out of? Which ones do I still struggle with? (verse 14)
- Do I have “reverent fear” for God as the Judge? (verse 17)
- Does Peter mean that we can purify ourselves by obedience? (verse 22)
Author: Michael Morrison, 2005, 2011