A Preaching the Word commentary that explores 1 & 2 Peter and Jude and reminds believers that there is no cause for despair as long as your identity and foundation are in Christ.
About the Author
David R. Helm (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as lead pastor of the Hyde Park congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago. He also serves as Chairman of The Charles Simeon Trust, an organization which promotes practical instruction in preaching. He is the co-author of The Genesis Factor (with Jon Dennis), a contributor to Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching, and the author of The Big Picture Story Bible and 1 and 2 Peter and Jude in the Preaching the Word commentary series.
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Reading 1 Peter
Life is difficult. But this harsh truth has not always been understood by those following Jesus Christ. Many Christians today have trouble sorting out the complexity of their identity and calling in Christ. They were reared to believe that a Christian should only experience the joys of being one of God's elect. They have been taught nothing of our exilic state. With three simple words in the opening of this letter, Peter gives us the biblical corrective — a profound clue for finding life's true horizon. We are the "elect exiles of the dispersion" (1:1).
How did this phrase come to describe the true state of Christians in every age? "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" (1:2). Our soul rises in praise and falls in sorrow on the same afternoon "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." We are God's beloved, and yet we are carried off into exile like Daniel of old "in the sanctification of the Spirit." We remain on the outside of the world in which we live "for obedience to Jesus Christ." And we are all these things as a fragrant offering in Christ's "blood." According to Peter, we owe our full identity as "elect exiles" to the mysterious plan of God.
Throughout the Scriptures, the way up comes by going down; restoration comes after trials (5:10). It is this inversion in attaining glory that marks Peter's theme throughout this letter. Christians' future inheritance and exaltation — our eternal share in the glory of Christ — will be awarded to us on the day of his appearing (1:13; 2:12; 4:13; 5:1, 4, 10). But that promised day only comes after this brief season of present-day sufferings. For suffering always precedes subsequent glories. As it was for God's Son, so it will be for all of us who are in him.
This bringing together of two seemingly incompatible truths — our status in Christ and our sufferings on earth — is how Peter's letter begins (1:1, 2). And in the body of the letter these incompatible ideas are continually joined to one another. In 1:3-12 we see that an eternal inheritance is linked to various trials. In other words, salvation's future goal (vv. 3-5) is built upon the present trials (vv. 6-9) as well as the past glories (vv. 10-12).
Beginning with verse 13, Peter begins to establish answers to some pending questions. In light of these present trials, how are Christians supposed to bear witness to Christ's glory? How are we to live in this wilderness world? Peter's prescriptive answer centers on the Christian's conduct (v. 15). The word translated "conduct" in this verse is used only twenty-four times in the entire New Testament. And yet nearly half of those come from Peter. He uses it eleven times (see 1:15, 17, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Peter 2:7, 18; 3:11). In essence, Peter's strategy for Christian conduct, rooted in a settled hope, comes from a focus on:
* Sanctification (1:13-21)
* A sincere love for others both in and out of the church (1:22 — 2:12)
* Submission to unjust leaders out of a love for Christ (2:13 — 3:7)
* A willingness to suffer (3:8 — 4:6), and
* Service to God's new family (4:7 — 5:14)
These are the elements of Christian conduct.
Peter goes on to develop this theme of Christian identity and conduct in light of a settled hope. Reaching a turning point in 2:11, 12, we find a concise exhortation to live lives worthy of our unique calling. Examples of what this looks like abound (2:13, 18; 3:1). And in case Peter's early readers have trouble grasping this gracious truth, he will go so far as to argue that Jesus Christ was the supreme example of this teaching (2:21-25). Aware of the high demands this will place upon his readers, Peter encourages them by setting forward the exilic-like wandering years of King David, the anointed one who suffered, in an effort to help them press on (3:9-17). Finally, in 3:18-22, he returns to Christ and grounds the irony of his divine logic in the demonstration of Christ's ultimate vindication as proof of our future hope and present calling (4:19).
In these later chapters Peter continues to encourage his readers with the example of Christ overcoming extraordinary trials. He concludes by making an appeal to the elders specifically (5:1-5) and then to everyone more generally (5:6-14) to fulfill their unique callings in humility and grace. The divine principle of "true grace" (5:12) is this: God has established our salvation, given us our identity, confirmed our present-day calling, and secured our future inheritance by means of an inverted irony — namely, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Therefore, just as the exaltation of Jesus followed a season of humiliation, so too our share in his eternal glory will appear after we have learned to follow in his true and gracious ways.
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. (1:1, 2)CHAPTER 2
A Letter to Elect Exiles
1 PETER 1:1, 2
If you were to walk home with me from work, you would travel a few short blocks — down an alley, through an iron gate, and up seven or eight stairs to a landing. Then, with a turn of the key and a push of a door, you would find yourself in one of Chicago's throwback, turn-of-the-century, southside six-flats, standing in my kitchen. Once the door was shut behind us (no small task given the number of shoes that seem to collect there), you would see me greet Lisa and the kids, and then, on a normal day, you would hear me ask, "Any good mail?"
Two things constitute a "good mail" day in the Helm household. First, good mail is that which comes from a friend or family member. No bills! And second, good mail means that the note was not only handwritten but written well. Well, although you didn't walk home with me, you have nevertheless found your way to this book; you have come in through the door, so to speak, and have gotten yourself situated. And, yes, it is a very good mail day.
A letter has arrived, and it is from one of the members of God's family. According to verse 1 it claims Peter, the great and gregarious follower of Jesus, as its author. It is signed "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ." Later on, as if to leave no doubt as to his identity, the writer confirms himself as Peter the Apostle by stating, "I exhort the elders among you, as a ... witness of the sufferings of Christ" (5:1). So, from the opening words to the final chapter internal testimony supports the notion that the letter we are studying is from none other than Peter, a disciple of Jesus, an elder in the early church, an apostle, and a witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Of course, there are, and forever will be, melancholy Eeyores standing around, many who are prepared to pour rain on a good mail day. When it comes to reading 1 Peter, learned detractors intrude into our kitchen and say, "Are you so sure, simpleminded pastor? Is the letter actually from the hand of Peter? After all, it might not be, you know. In fact, many of us don't believe in the notion of Petrine authorship. For proof we make our appeal to your own criteria on what constitutes a good mail day. This letter is simply too well written to come from Peter the Apostle."
So we arrive, even before we begin, at a contemporary charge against this piece of divine mail. There is nothing to be gained by hiding this from you. A veritable gaggle of scholars feel that the Greek used in this letter is too elevated for Peter — the vocabulary too rich and uncommon — the engaging rhetorical flow too far above the intellectual capacity of an uneducated first-century fisherman like Peter. Our very own yores shake their heads from side to side as if to say, "I am so sorry to disappoint you, but this letter was written later in time. It comes from the hand of one well acquainted with the literary tools necessary for this kind of ascendant discourse." To support their claim, they appeal to Acts 4 where Peter is referred to as an "uneducated [and] common" man. The effect, of course, is devastating. Our initial excitement over a good mail day begins falling to the ground like a balloon losing the air that once kept it afloat. Well, don't be overly discouraged just yet. There is a great irony in the charge, and like a knife, it cuts both ways.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
The charge that Peter and John were "uneducated, common men" can certainly be perceived as a derogatory one. Yet, and this is important, these words were not used by the biblical scholars of Peter's day to level a negative verdict on whether or not the man standing before them was actually Peter the Apostle. Rather, these precise terms were the only ones available to adequately express their astonished surprise at the superior ability and elevated style of this man, Peter. In other words, these men were amazed that one so ordinary could also be one so well-spoken.
Now, with that knowledge in place, the irony of the contemporary charge leveled against apostolic authorship for our letter is unmasked. If the terms uneducated and common were the ones employed by the elite of Peter's day to support — not to deny — his person, then certainly the pundits of our day should be willing to consider that this same Peter could possess the ability to write well. In fact, if we are honest, all of us should be willing to admit that someone who is so well-spoken might also have the capability of becoming so well-written.
And what is it that makes good writing? Well, C. S. Lewis, in correspondence with a young American girl on June 26, 1956, wrote:
What really matters is:
Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean, and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.
Always prefer the plain direct word to the long vague one. Don't "implement" promises, but "keep" them.
Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean "more people died," don't say "mortality rose."
Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it in such a way that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful," make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words, (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only saying to your readers "please will you do my job for me."
Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you really mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
Isn't that great? Good writing, after all, is clear, simple, and direct. It contains what Lewis called "concrete" nouns. As we make our way through this letter, we will see Peter put all of Lewis's dictums into practice. This letter is good because it is clear, simple, direct.
Peter doesn't waste any time in utilizing concrete nouns to identify the ones to whom he is writing. In verse 1 he writes:
To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
He uses three strong nouns to describe his audience: "elect exilesof the dispersion." In time you will see that these three words function as floor joists to the book. They undergird and support everything Peter wants to say. Like flowers in a garden, the ideas and concepts hidden in these strong nouns will open in full bloom. In fact, one could argue that everything in 1 Peter flows from the force of these three simple words.
The word translated "elect" simply means "chosen." Throughout the Bible chosen is the intimate term most often used to speak of those whom God loves. To grasp the relational intimacy behind the term, consider the exalted picture Ezekiel paints when speaking of God's electing choice of Israel:
"And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.
"When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD." (16:4-14)
What a special picture describing God's electing love! Israel became God's chosen. They were his elect. Although born helpless and vulnerable, they were given life through God's electing love. Do you see the comfort associated with this word elect? The term elect is meant to encourage the church. It is to remind the people of God of his great love. It is not a term to be waved in front of those who don't yet know God. It should be used to bring comfort for those in the faith. Peter intended to assure his early dispersed readers of God's steadfast love. And certainly they would have basked in the reassuring strength of the word.
Exiles of the Dispersion
We have already seen that the term elect, in all its grandeur, was given to the entire household of Israel. Unfortunately, history shows that Israel began to presume upon God's good grace. As special objects of his love, they believed they would always know his goodness. Over time their familiarity with God worked against them. They felt that they were entitled to the good life even when their affections for God fell off. Presumptuous sin became the unfortunate companion of God's elect. During the days of the kings, they turned away from God and forfeited the glory of his approval. As a result, the great nation was carried off into exile; they were dispersed by God. The term exiles of the dispersion was now, for the first time, joined to the term elect. In Shakespeare's Henry VI we read of the tragedy of glory dispersed.
Glory is like a circle in the water, Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself Till by broad spreading it disperse to naught. With Henry's death the English circle ends; Dispersed are the glories it included.
Israel knew something of lost glory. They knew, all too well, that the term elect does at times stand beside the phrase exiles of the dispersion — beloved by God, yet seemingly left alone in the world. In this letter Peter does not hesitate to place these terms alongside one another to identify his readers. They are called the "elect exiles of the dispersion." How strange. One would have thought that putting these words together would be like mixing oil with water. Yet for Peter, it is no trouble at all.
There is one major difference, however, in the way Peter uses the terms. As the letter unfolds, it will become clear to us that Peter believes that his readers are exiles of a different sort. Their exilic identity has nothing to do with ancient Israel's sin — or their own. Their exilic state is not the result of disobedience to God. In fact, all the evidence in the letter demonstrates that they were living faithful and fruitful lives in obedience to Christ (1:2). For Peter then — and this is most important — the phrase "exiles of the dispersion" depicts the normative state of any follower of Jesus, so long as he or she remains in this world.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "1 & 2 Peter And Jude"
Copyright © 2008 The Charles Simeon Trust.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word,
1 Reading 1 Peter,
2 A Letter to Elect Exiles (1 PETER 1:1, 2),
3 Salvation's Future Goal (1 PETER 1:3-5),
4 Salvation's Present Trials (1 PETER 1:6-9),
5 Salvation's Past Glories (1 PETER 1:10-12),
6 A Settled Hope (1 PETER 1:13-21),
7 A Sincere Love (1 PETER 1:22 – 2:3),
8 A Spiritual House (1 PETER 2:4-10),
9 Good Deeds (1 PETER 2:11, 12),
10 Honorable Living (1 PETER 2:13-25),
11 Internal Adornment (1 PETER 3:1-7),
12 Encouragement to Continue (1 PETER 3:8-17),
13 Encouragement in Christ's Victory (1 PETER 3:18-22),
14 Embrace Your Calling to Suffer in the World (1 PETER 4:1-6),
15 Embrace Your Calling in the Church (1 PETER 4:7-11),
16 Glory, Suffering, and Judgment (1 PETER 4:12-19),
17 An Exhortation to Elders (1 PETER 5:1-5),
18 True Grace and Eternal Glory (1 PETER 5:6-14),
19 Reading 2 Peter,
20 This Letter and the Life Experience of Peter(2 PETER 1:1, 2),
21 Our Faith Must Grow (2 PETER 1:3-11),
22 Final Words on Matters of First Importance (2 PETER 1:12-15),
23 Following in the Apostolic Way (2 PETER 1:16-21),
24 Portraits of Failing Faith (2 PETER 2:1-10a),
25 Preachers Who Forsake the Faith (2 PETER 2:10b-22),
26 A Reminder on the Return of Christ (2 PETER 3:1-7),
27 Reasons for a Delay in Christ's Return (2 PETER 3:8-10),
28 What to Do While Waiting (2 PETER 3:11-16),
29 A Faith That Finishes (2 PETER 3:17, 18),
30 Reading Jude,
31 Letter from the Ancient Jewish World (JUDE 1, 2),
32 Contending for This Noble Faith (JUDE 3, 4),
33 The Past Becomes the Present (JUDE 5-10),
34 The Making of Midrash (JUDE 11-16),
35 Contending for the Faith: The Calling We Keep (JUDE 17-21),
36 Contending for the Faith: The Commitments We Make (JUDE 20, 21),
37 Contending for the Faith: The Conduct We Embrace (JUDE 22, 23),
38 An Exalted Ending (JUDE 24, 25),
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