Bible 1 Peter Can Be A Little Tough…

1 Peter Can Be A Little Tough…

a guest blog by Shawn Blythe

The first book of Peter is not a particularly easy read.  There is a lot of talk about suffering and encouragement for us to submit ourselves to others.  Nobody likes to be told to submit and few people like to suffer.

To be fair, Peter is not exactly breaking new ground here as the basic theological precepts are also covered by others – most notably by Paul in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians.  But this doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Peter starts his letter with a rather uplifting chapter detailing the miracle of our salvation and our new status with God.  The verses are filled with encouragement and “an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1:8).  We are called to praise God, love others and set ourselves apart.  Chapter two continues this theme by declaring those saved to be a royal priesthood and admonishing us to act accordingly.

So far, I am liking this.  Sounds good.  No Christian likely has an issue with being “born again . . . through the living and enduring word of God” (1:23).  I like being included in God’s “holy nation”.  I have no issue with being “called out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2:9).  But this is where Peter starts to deliver some more challenging guidance.

Verse 13 of chapter two starts a series of humbling calls for us to submit to others.  We are called to submit to authorities – and not just good authorities, but “every authority instituted among men”.  It’s important to remember that at the time that Peter is writing this, most scholars agree that Nero was likely emperor of Rome. This “authority” was not known for his kindness to Christians.

Peter goes on to encourage slaves to submit themselves to their masters “with all respect” (2:18) regardless of whether the masters are fair or not.  Those fighting slavery all over the world cringe.  Wives are asked to submit to husbands and to focus on the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”.  The indignation of generations of women (including my wife and daughter) rings in my head.

Few Christians in the world today believe that women are somehow less than men and should perpetually bow to a man’s superior wisdom and decision-making.  Even fewer people believe that slavery is good or should even be tolerated.  So, what do we do with Peter’s words?

I think part of the answer is revealed by what Peter chooses to talk about – or in this case what he chooses NOT to talk about.  Peter likely knew the human incarnation of Christ as well as anybody else.  He was an apostle – and even among the apostles he was part of an inner circle.  Peter knows stories and additional information about Christ that virtually nobody else knew.  John ends his gospel with the statement that there was so much more that could be written about Jesus’ life that the whole world would not have room for the books (John 21:25).  Yet when Peter has the chance to write down his thoughts – there is virtually no mention of Christ on this earth.  He skips over the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry and focuses solely on the result of his sacrifice – our redemption.  He completely ignores the physical world and focuses exclusively on the spiritual realm.

This letter is about how spiritual people are supposed to act in a fallen world.  Should rulers and authorities persecute people based on their religious beliefs?  Absolutely not – but they do.  Should people enslave other people?  Absolutely not – but they do.  Should husbands abuse and diminish a woman’s role in the partnership that is marriage? Absolutely not – but they do.  Peter’s words are a guidebook for how to behave in those earthly situations – and it is not easy advice.  Perhaps we should have been forewarned when Peter admonishes us to “grow up” in our salvation (2:2).

In each of the three cases, we are advised to “submit”.  We are effectively asked to set aside our normal reaction to a callous disregard for our rights and instead offer a response based on love.  We are requested to persevere in the face of an earthly injustice for the promise of a spiritual reward.

In chapter three, Peter asks a somewhat rhetorical question “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (3:13).  Of course, all of us can likely think of situations where our attempts to do the right thing resulted in outcomes that were not ideal.  But before we can go too far down that road, Peter continues that even if we are harmed, we are blessed.  I believe that, once again, Peter is separating a physical situation from a spiritual outcome.  We may be harmed physically – but we are blessed spiritually.  He immediately pushes the point further by contrasting the death of Christ’s body to his spiritual life (3:18).

This kind of thinking forces us to challenge our commonly accepted thoughts on what is “fair” or “right”.  We all have roles to play on this earth.  Some are more powerful than others.  Some get to make the rules, while others are subject to them.  But this has nothing to do with our spiritual value.  We are children of God and heirs to eternal salvation.  We are a chosen priesthood and a holy nation of God. And yet on this earth we are placed in roles that are subject to others.  We are placed in situations where we are mistreated, misjudged, and marginalized.

And how are we to react to these situations?  Peter’s guidance clearly shifts our focus from the earthly circumstances to our heavenly calling.  We are called to humble ourselves temporarily in order that God might lift us up at the right time (5:6).  It is not easy and sometimes not pleasant.  Perhaps it is helpful to remember the example of Christ, who on the night before his death, washed the feet of ALL of his apostles – including Judas’ (John 13). 

Most notably the section covering the behavior of wives is a direct comparison with Christ.  The end of chapter two details the servanthood of Christ.  Christ surrendered all in order to triumph.  The beginning of chapter three begins “in the same way”.  Wives are asked to submit in order to lead their husbands to faith.  The equality of being joint heirs to eternal life (3:7) is temporarily set aside for a greater good.  We are not asked to submit because we are “less than”, but rather because our mission is “more than”. 

It is also important to note that our humble response to injustice doesn’t validate it any more than Christ’s humility in washing the apostle’s feet condoned what Judas was about to do.  It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t advocate against human trafficking or seek to end spousal abuse.  It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to help the most vulnerable among us to escape these situations.  In addition, any person has the right to utilize all legal avenues available to them to remove themselves from danger.  And it certainly doesn’t provide any right of those in a position of power to mistreat others.    Peter is not speaking to the oppressors – their behavior is understood to be out of line.  This message is for those oppressed and it is a message of hope that regardless of our situation, we can, like Christ, “entrust ourselves to him who judges justly” (2:23).

When this world treats us unfairly and we find ourselves in vulnerable positions – we should be ready with a spiritual response of love, humility, and respect in the face of that earthly challenge.  This is what God asks of us – and exactly what he asked of Jesus.

We are “aliens and strangers in the world”.  When I traveled extensively for business, I did not buy property in the places I visited.  I did not learn the tax rules or local zoning ordinances.  I did not research the best schools or neighborhoods.  I did none of those things because I was simply a visitor.  I had no lasting stake in that place.  No matter what transpired during my visit (good or bad), it was of little relevance to me because I knew I would be returning to my home.

Our time on earth is no different.  Clearly there are basic things that we need to do here to survive (e.g. food, shelter, source of income, family responsibilities, etc.)  This results in us taking various roles during our lifetime.  Some of these roles may seem more powerful, more glamorous, more fun, or just plain “more” than others.  But this has nothing to do with our spiritual calling.  Regardless of our physical role, we are called to love deeply, cheerfully help others, and faithfully use the gifts that God has given us.  We seek to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matt 6:20) during our brief time on this earth. 

But let’s be honest, we still don’t like the inequity in how we treat each other.  We don’t like the fact that some wield their power and authority over others with recklessness.  We find it infuriating when apparently less qualified people are placed in positions of authority over apparently more qualified people.  We don’t like it when people are treated differently because they aren’t like “us” (however that may be defined – whether by gender, race, age, or religion).  But this is exactly the situation that Christ purposefully and willfully embraced.  And it is Christ’s response in the face of that situation that we should emulate.

Peter has taken Christ’s guidance to “not resist an evil person” and the oft quoted “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5) and put more specificity around it.  He has replaced the ubiquitous “evil person” with our leaders, our boss, and even our spouse – and asks us to respond the same way.  If Christ called us to behave with love towards those who are evil or wish us harm – should we behave any differently towards those who theoretically have some level of responsibility for our well-being?

The message is the same in either case; we are called to humble ourselves and focus on serving with love and cheerfulness wherever we can.  This is regardless of who is in charge, whether our value is recognized, or whether we are respected as human beings. 

We do this with the unwavering knowledge and certainty that God is faithful, his love for us is enduring, we have been redeemed . . . and this uncomfortable physical inequity is temporary and incomparable with the eternal place that Christ has prepared for us.

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