Studies in First Peter
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)
Christians are a peculiar people. Not odd or weird but unusual and unconventional. Christians live in a world, adopting most of the cultural norms of the societies in which they live while knowing they are heaven bound and that the world is not their final home. We live in the world but are not of the world. We look like everyone else but do not act according to the immoral, ungodly dictates of the world in which we live.
Peter gives instruction to people who find themselves at odds with the world, sometimes violently at odds, because of their focus on eternity. The world and all that it contains will cease to exist. People will die and leave all that they have gathered to others, who will in turn die, passing on their possessions to yet others. There is no hope in this world except in the present. Christians hope in God who is eternal and who has promised, through Jesus Christ to bring them into His presence for eternity.
Peter has written a letter that is both easy to understand on the surface with sections that are difficult to comprehend. Peter, an eyewitness to Jesus’ words and works, a disciple of Christ and the leader of the twelve apostles, shows his experience in living for Christ and knowledge of deep spiritual matters, in this short epistle.
First Peter is divided into three main sections. Each section shows one member of the Triune Godhead working in the Christian and in the Church, the Body of Christ. The theme of First Peter is that Christians are aliens and strangers in the world, and drives the points Peter wants to make in each of the three sections. Throughout each section, Peter give his readers the tools they need to understand the work of God to live as Christians in a sinful and hateful world. (What are these tools? They are the spiritual disciplines found in the Sermon on the Mount.) His main concern is for Christians to view themselves in an eternal light. For this reason he identifies them as sojourners in the world. But he uses two different words to describe their position: “aliens” and “strangers.”
As I was growing up as an Air Force brat who lived in Europe for six years, family members of those in the military service were called “good will ambassadors.” I was a US citizen living in a foreign country. I had no idea what an “ambassador” was. I just knew that, according to my dad, I better be on my best behavior. I represented the United States, the Military Base where we were stationed, and my father and family. If I got in trouble then the United States was in trouble, the Base was in trouble and my father was in trouble. My dad was a First Sergeant and he made sure I understood that if he got in trouble I was in big trouble. Being a “good will ambassador” meant nothing to me. I completely understood what it meant to be in trouble with my dad.
People in a country not their own fall into two primary categories. Either they are just visiting for a short time or they have pulled up stakes in their home country and are living permanently in their host country.
Peter uses two Greek words to describe the Christian in the world. The English words used to translate the Greek words are unfortunate. I have come to understand what these two Greek words mean from being forced to live in a country not my own. In the English Standard Version both words are translated exiles. Neither word means exile.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles (1 Peter 1:1 ESV).
Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (1 Peter 1:17 ESV).
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners (exiles) and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11 ESV).
The first word is better translated, alienor immigrant. The second word is better translated, sojourner or stranger.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are aliensor immigrants (1 Peter 1:1 ESV).
Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your sojourn (1 Peter 1:17 ESV).
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangersto abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11 ESV).
Understanding these two words is critical to understanding the First Epistle of Peter.