The Relevance of 1st Peter Amid the Global Pandemic of Today

All too often we, as Christians, allow society to shape and direct our motives. It is very easy to allow our secular surroundings to seep into our faith and dilute its potency. This is not only common but has been occurring in the faith-based since its inception of the Christian Church. What this author intends to do with this article is to show the parallels in 1 Peter from two thousand years ago with the chaos that is happening today and how Peter, very systematically, teaches the early church how to act amid such chaos.

This article will serve as a pseudo-commentary on the book of 1 Peter and relate it to contemporary events. Although we will not go line by line but theme by theme highlighting the strength and purposes of Peter’s exhortation to the dispersed people of faith during horrific conditions; far worse than we see today. The point is to underscore Peter’s instruction to the Christian church as to how disciples of Christ should act and react in the face of chaos and persecution. He discloses to early believers, and by extension to the modern Church, not only why to persevere but how to properly act while we do so.

The first epistle of Peter was written around 62-63 A.D., most likely from Rome during the reign of Nero.[1] Most scholars do not argue that it was Peter, the disciple of Jesus Christ        [“Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (John 1:42 ESV)] who wrote it. Peter was an interesting Apostle. He was not only a close follower of Jesus and saw many great things (transfiguration, miracles, crucifixion, etc.…)  but many scholars and theologians referred to him as the most tenacious of the disciples; “his fiery temperament, his quick resoluteness, his fearless courage, and his unreserved candor, were to be purified, glorified and confirmed by his love of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Ghost[2]” This is peculiar in that his Epistle is festooned with temperance and caution; showing once again the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and His work in the lives of people who are prone to rash behavior, but have accepted the saving grace and sacrificial work of Jesus Christ.

Peter is writing to a vast area in Asian Minor filled with converted Christians who have undergone great persecution and suffering. Much like the world today; although many in the United States only see it from American eyes; the entire world is dispersed with believers and followers of Christ (i.e. China).  Peter “wants to shape their behavior in such a way as to overcome prejudice against them.[3]” He exhorts the faithful to stay steadfast in their belief and duties, knowing that Jesus Christ will reward them with “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Like many of the other epistles written by Paul and James, Peter is comforting the believers to persevere through prejudice, by obedience to God: “ As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16). Once again, we see this precedent for holiness and separation of thought. As the rest of the world conforms to societal woes and loathing, followers of Christ take on a sacrificial attitude toward suffering and persecution. This is still what the church is called to today.

Although this book of Peter is fairly short, it highlights many different themes that extols the virtues of God’s Kingdom and His followers. First, those who suffer as faithful followers of Christ and will be proven worthy when Christ returns; (1 Peter 1:6-9; 2:18-25; 3:13-22; 4:12-19). Second, Christ died as a substitute for the fallen man. His death and resurrection are the basis for their new life; (1:17-21; 2:24; 3:13-22).  And Thirdly, Christians should live righteously in their domiciles and society, based on a new life in Christ with love and holiness; (2:11-3:7; 1:3; 1:13-2:3).[4]

Peter writes to the character of first-century Christians in relation to Jesus Christ. He regularly refers to Christ’s suffering and ties that into the life of the believer; “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (3:18). He binds suffering with righteousness (3:8) and suffering as a Christian (4:12). This gives a certain nobility to suffering, as we can honor Christ, by suffering for his sake, as he suffered for our salvation. Now ask yourself, where do you see this attitude in the Church today? In a brief one hour search on Facebook, it will quickly show that the Christian community, and especially leadership, has a depraved view of suffering as noble or with sacrificial thought. Posts filled with hatred to the President and governmental leaders are riddled with contempt and disdain. Where is the piety? Where is the restraint? Where is the Christian virtue Peter is describing in this epistle?

Peter also writes about the caring nature of God, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (5:6-7). God, will reward those faithful in his service, restoring all to his eternal glory. This juxtaposition of God, the redeemer, and Christ, who suffered for our sins, is intentional on behalf of Peter to the disheartened. By interweaving the faithful, with Christ and Abba (the Father), Peter encourages the Church to stay sober-minded and joyful in their good works, that they too, are fulfilling the will of God, through tribulation, as Christ did. During those days, the Church was under heavy-laden persecution for their beliefs; we need to realize that although our Churches may be closed for the time being, consternation and protestation against this may lead to a blemish upon the Church, as a whole, from a community perspective. This will lead to further admonishment of the Church from a secular worldview.

The underlying message of this letter is aimed toward the mission of the Church. The people targeted in this letter, were specifically getting persecuted because of their sacrificial lifestyle, as practicing Christians, who were setting themselves apart from local community interaction. “Sacrificial systems provide a way of effecting reconciliation as the cost is symbolically paid by the offending party and symbolically accepted by the other side.[5]” This was setting them up as outsiders and causing many (in the faith) to shadow back into obscurity.[6]  Peter is standardizing the Church, calling them to stand firm in the face of opposition, and do not allow themselves to muddy the waters with ignorance or debased behavior; “ For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. Concerning this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (Peter 4:3-5).  This should set as an example for the faith-community when we rile up the masses to protest, disobey, and fight governmental authority. It will be our honor, obedience, and truth that will re-emerge when all is settled and normal. Then the Gospel message with resound stentorious.

How does this all speak to the ethos in which we are now living? Where can we pick up our cross daily and follow the Lord (Luke 9:23-24) while still being effective in society? First of all, we can begin by putting forth our ideas and speaking truth to power with kindness, wisdom, and humility. Calling for civil discourse is one thing but coming together in a heard anxious protestor (who might very well be justified) to storm the steps of government does nothing for the cause and certainly does not exhibit Christian virtue.

Moreover, a constant borage of hate and contentment on social media only exacerbates the situation. The comments and writings of many in Church leadership have been appalling; exposing their social justice prowess and left/right-leaning political moorings. The Church is supposed to be politically neutral but ideologically relevant. For example, any Biblicist with an ounce of training knows that being forced to close our Churches and stay home is against the foundational principles of freedom; however, this does not justify the hatred of public officials or the democratic party. Conversely; most people with any knowledge of the Bible can see that the language and manner in which our President speaks out against his opponents could use some grace and restraint; however, this does not rightly rationalize his evilness or condemnation as our Commander-in-chief. Where is the moderation? Where is the civility?

Sadly, an enormous portion of these comments and attacks are coming from the pulpit and church leadership. This looks nothing like the behavior Peter exhorts followers of Christ to act and respond to persecution. We, as the believing body of Christ, owe it to our Savior to lead right now in the community showing sacrificial suffering and obedience to the rule of law. For it is the ideas and principles of the mind and heart that win the day; that is our battleground. After all, we have the greatest and most effective playbook of principles and ideas ever to have existed: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12 -13).

In conclusion, “Martin Luther justly designates the Epistle of St. Peter as one of the most noble of the New Testament. It exhibits a wealth of thought, a dignity, a fervor, a humility and love, a believing hope, a readiness for the advent of Christ, in exact harmony with the individuality of the Apostle.[7]” The first book of Peter is a wonderful kaleidoscope of struggle, grace, and duty. I appreciate Peter’s linkage of the Christian plight with that of the suffering servant.  His passion for stewardship of God’s grace is poignant and naturally flows into living an exemplary life of obedience to God in the face of opposition. He lines out a life lived, with honor, while the world casts us out, for our belief. This is a great book for the Christian pariah, or outcast, as a philosophical treatise for those who feel that the Church is on the fringe. In this way it relates to our twenty-first-century world of YouTube, Hollywood, and the twenty-four-hour news cycle. When we feel like society is hedging out faith-based communities, we can turn to 1 Peter for guidance.

 

Bibliography

Childs, Brevard S. Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible. Fortress Press, 2011.

Desilva, David A. An Introduction to the New Testament: Context, Methods and Ministry Formation. InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Grudem, Wayne A. ESV Student Study Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway, 2017.

Marshall, I. Howard. New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods. Wipf & Stock, 2006.

“Peter and John.” MIN7012 W9 L2. New Testament Context and Theology, Mar. 2018, Warrensville, South University.

Schaff, P., et al. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Peter. Logos Bible Software, 2008.

 

 

 

[1] Introduction commentary, Wayne A. Grudem, ESV Student Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1669.

 

[2]P. Schaff et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Peter (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 3.

[3] David A. Desilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Context, Methods and Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 841.

[4] Key Themes commentary, Wayne A. Grudem, ESV Student Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1669.

[5] I. Howard. Marshall, New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 358.

[6] P. Schaff et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Peter (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 6.

 

[7] Ibid, 6.

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