If you were writing letter to someone who is currently going through a difficult situation, I wonder how would you begin? Peter is writing to Christians scattered through the Roman Empire who are under severe stress, addressing them as ‘strangers in the World’ (v.1-2; compare John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-17).
The church had grown explosively in numbers, and Christians were increasingly viewed as a distinct people. Their fierce allegiance to Christ, that kept them from worshipping the Emperor and state gods, was viewed as a lack of patriotism. Jewish Christians were often slandered by their old communities, Gentile Christians by their old companions. And in various parts of the empire official persecution developed, to the extent that in some places individuals were executed merely for admitting that they worshipped Jesus Christ. When we look around the world today at the persecuted church, we realise things haven’t changed much in 2000 years, and indeed are getting worse (see Matthew 24: 1-35; John 16:33).
Peter begins by reminding his audience (us included!) about the ‘living hope’ that they and we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and that this leads to an imperishable inheritance and protection by God (v.3-5). In response to this, Peter encourages praise and worship, in spite of the difficulties that they/we may currently be facing.
It can be very easy to offer ‘platitudes’ in times of trial, but here Peter is simply trying to put things from a heavenly perspective. Earthly suffering may indeed be great, suffering grief in all kinds of trials (v.6), but under God’s protection these do serve a purpose. We are never assured of a ‘trouble free life’ whether we are a Christian or not, but we can be assured that God will be with us through our lives (see Psalm 199: 114; Psalm 31: 20; Psalm 40; Luke 12: 22-25; Isaiah 43: 1-7; Isaiah 41:10, 13; 2 Corinthians 1: 21-22; and of course Psalm 23).
In light of all this, Peter writes: ‘Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy’ (v.13-15; see also Leviticus 11:44).
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Prayer: Meditate on the scriptures that reassure us of God’s presence as we journey through this life together with Him, as ‘strangers’ in the land. Amen.