Our desire is for the content of Disciple Magazine to have one consistent theme: that Scripture should be our only authority and that we should carefully study it, apply it to our lives, and teach it to others.
In writing for Pulpit Helps, I tended to approach that theme from the angle of various subjects, seeking the Lord's will from what His Word had to say about obedience, love, ministry, art, etc. Topical studies are beneficial because they remind us of the prescience of the Word to every situation we may face-rather like "asking God's advice" on a troubling matter. However, as we begin crafting a voice for Disciple, I want to take a step toward exposition-that is, opening the Word and letting it speak for itself.
My goal for this column is the faithful study of Scripture and exhortation to application. If we aren't "giving legs" to the Word, letting it shape our attitudes and actions, then our study is not only fruitless, but is a distortion of the very purpose of God's revelation (see Rom. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:17; James 1:22; etc.). With that in mind, we'll dig deeply into the Bible together in the second issue of each month.
The first book we will open is 1 Peter, the apostle's letter of encouragement and exhortation to beleaguered Christians. I chose to start here because 1) The Lord has used this book mightily in my life over the years, 2) its message of holy living in spite of circumstances is ever relevant, and 3) it is relatively short and straightforward, which makes it a great place to begin this column. We'll try to break it down in "bite-size" chunks without distorting the natural flow of the letter. This first column will introduce the book and cover Peter's greeting in 1:1-2
Peter's epistle, like most other NT letters from Church leaders, contains theological exposition from the OT (he quotes from the Septuagint at least once per chapter), reassurance of the completed work of Christ, and exhortation to righteousness (i.e. completed action in the past that fixes our hope for the future, lived out in the present). He most likely wrote the letter during the persecution of Nero around 64 A.D., and it is addressed to believers suffering through this adversity. He writes to shore up their faith, and to remind them that persecution is a reason to strive harder after holiness, not to give up.
Peter opens his letter with an introduction of five sentences and a host of prepositions and clauses retracing the power of God for salvation with layers upon layers of definition, each leading up to "therefore" in verse 13 that marks a transition from description to exhortation.
The first sentence, his greeting, reads, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, 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, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure" (1 Pet. 1:1-2).
Peter comes out of the gate stating his authority as an apostle and identifying himself with Jesus-this simple phrase established the letter's accuracy and value, and would've been read by the recipients as, "listen up!" Over the years, many scholars have questioned whether Peter actually wrote the two epistles that carry his name; it is beyond the scope of this article to address those claims (for that, I can heartily recommend Wayne Grudem's defense of Peter's authorship from his commentary on the book), and we will assume from the text that this letter really came from Peter.
He then addresses the intended recipients of the letter, identifying them first and foremost as "aliens." The Greek word behind this is parepidēmos, literally something like "beside yet among the people," and sets the tone for the letter that believers are truly passing through earthly life as foreigners on a journey. These sojourners were scattered throughout the region today known as Turkey, in those days, the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire and the heart of early Christianity, home to such cities as Ephesus, Pergamum, Laodicea, Colossae, Smyrna, Lystra, and Derbe. In the first century, the believers in this region were undergoing severe persecution, likely both from the Jews (the "synagogue of Satan" in Rev. 2:9; 3:9) and the Romans under Nero.
Peter describes his audience further as those "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." This is consistent with the themes of the New Testament-eklektos, the same Greek word translated "chosen" here, is used by Christ to describe His followers in Matthew 24:22, and Luke 18:7, and by Paul in Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12, and elsewhere as a synonym for believers.
The concept of God choosing the faithful shouldn't scare us, but should be a source of joy-it is a reminder that He is the author of our salvation from the foundation of the world, that we cannot earn our way to heaven. Still, as the bulk of Peter's letter makes clear, the chosen are called to a high road, and God's election does not constitute the elimination of personal responsibility. Much as God chose the nation of Israel in order that they would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:2-3, Ps. 67, etc.), He has chosen the Church to be His instrument of drawing the nations to himself (Matt. 24:14, Acts 1:8, etc.).
Peter goes on to describe the mechanism of God's choice, "by the sanctifying work of the Spirit." God draws men to repentance by the conviction of sin and works righteousness in the hearts of believers through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
He further states the purpose of God's choice, for believers "to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood." "Obey" in Greek, hupakoē, is a compound word meaning "to hear under." Obedience in the New Testament, then, is much more than simply "doing the right thing;" to obey Christ is to listen attentively to His voice and submit wholly to His authority and care. Sprinkling with His blood recalls the Old Testament sacrificial system, in which the priests sprinkled the blood of animals on the altar to atone for the sins of Israel. Peter reminds his readers that the blood of Christ is the complete atonement, and the means of their salvation.
He concludes his greeting, "may grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure." This is not just a trite saying, but represents the words of life to these persecuted believers. Peter reminds them of the hope that is theirs because of the great mercy of God through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and the "peace of God that passes all comprehension" (Phil. 4:7). God is the source of life and comfort, and He bestows these gifts abundantly upon His chosen.
It is easy to gloss over greetings such as Peter's as we read through the Epistles, but in doing so we miss important elements of truth. In these two short verses, Peter establishes his authority, reminds persecuted believers of their status as strangers to this world and as those called by God, reaffirms the completed work of salvation, and invokes the security of God's grace and peace for those who suffer.
The lesson for us is twofold. First, we shouldn't ever write off passages of Scripture-even the smallest, least remembered segments (like greetings) are inspired by God and there for a purpose. Second, God is always at work in our salvation and our circumstances. He has called us to follow Him, and made us citizens of heaven and given us the full measure of grace and peace for the journey-our allegiance is not to this world or to anyone in it. We are to be about His business wherever He has placed us. A kingdom-focused life is one that is daily consecrated to Christ and strives after obedience.
Powerful as this greeting is, it is only the beginning. As we unpack the rest of Peter's epistle in the coming months, we will see more clearly what true obedience looks like and explore God's vision for His people.
Justin Lonas is the editor of Disciple Magazine
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