A meditation on 1 Peter 4 and 5

Part 1: 1 Peter 4

Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; -Psalm 68:9

We have together been reading through 1 Peter these past few weeks. First we heard how Peter this apostles was writing to the churches of Asia Minor, how he identifies them as those with an eternal inheritance who are now being tested and tried and refined with fire. We heard how he goes on to give them three key instructions, rules that will help them hold on to their joy at Christ’s resurrection in their trials. First they are to hope in Christ’s return, second they are to live as foreigners in reverant fear, and finally they are to love one another deeply from their hearts. This will help them let go of this world, and cling to the joy of Easter. Peter goes on, quoting from song of Hebrew Scripture, to instruct them that God is building them up into a tower that will endure, while everything else around them comes tumbling down. Peter then teaches them to abide, to abide under the authority of emperors, slavemasters and husbands that the trials which come from them cannot hurt our souls but if we suffer from them for Jesus’s sake we participate in a holy thing. As we patiently endure suffering we may be asked why we still have such a great hope. We need to be ready, Peter says, to give the reason for the hope that is in us, that Christ was dead, he died for my sins, but now he is alive, this world is perishing but I have been born to a new and living that shall endure past the perishing of this wicked world. And so I praise my Lord. This is what we have heard so far.

Peter again in chapter 4 invites us to turn away from the pagan ways of living we had before. He invites us to live as if our souls are alive. For the very end of all things is near. That’s how we are to live as if the end is imminent, is more real than our daily affairs. We are called to be alert and sober so that we may pray.

Peter invites us again to love one another deeply, this time because love covers a multitude of sins. He tells us to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling, to use the gifts that God has endowed us with to serve others. In order to be faithful stewards of what God has given us we must share it with others, our gifts are not to be jealously guarded but offered to the glory of God. Our lives are being poured out as offerings in thanksgiving, that’s the meaning of the Christian life. We do not offer God goats or rams or oxen as sacrifices. We offer him ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a living sacrifice for his glory. The love we share, the talents we share, the wealth and time we give, in his house and with his people, for the weak and for the needy, this is the sacrifice we offer him. A sacrifice made worthy and acceptable by the blood of Christ, a sacrifice does not redeem us but necessarily flows from our redemption that we are made into what Christians are. Our sacrifice, our worship, is the mark of the Christian – gratitude.

Peter then launches into a discussion that can be summed up like this: “Judgment begins now with God’s household. What will come of those outside the house?” Peter sees the sufferings we endure in earth as a cause of joy and praise, or purification and refinement. He again calls us not to do wicked things so as to deserve suffering. And he tells us that judgment that begins with us will be unendurable when it in the end reaches those who are not united to Christ, those who are attached firmly to this perishing world. Lord have mercy upon us. It is for this reason that we faithfully strive to let go of this world and cling to Christ. Our only hope in life and death is that we are not our own, but have been gathered by a Good Shepherd and rescued from peril.

Part 2: 1 Peter 5

In 1 Peter 5, Peter concludes his discussion of enduring through the trials with instructions for leaders in the church, with instructions for those under leadership, with a warning, with a hope and with some final greetings.

First, to those who would lead Peter exhorts. Bishops are not to rule over the faithful as worldly kings rule over their subjects, they are not to be self-seeking or impressed with their own power and prestige. They know the sufferings of Christ and will, Peter seems sure, partake in the living hope Christians share. They are to be shepherds. They are to care for, nurture, watch over and protect their flocks from the wolves. This is not supposed to arise out of duty but desire. Jesus desires that his bishops long to care for, nurture, and protect the faithful committed to them, leading them to good food, and dispersing erroneous teaching. They are not at liberty to lord it over those committed to them, they are not at liberty to use their office to line their own pockets or seek their own glory. They are to seek Christ’s glory revealed in the faithful self-offering of the saints whom God is fashioning here in Earth. May we pray for our Bishop David and all those in authority that by how they live, and by the words that pour forth from their mouths, God may be glorified, that wolves may be scattered, and that the faithful may be fed and made strong. May they lay a table for us of the true and living Word of God. May they give us what we most desperately need, may they give us Jesus.

And to those under the authority of Bishops Peter gives a very similar instruction. Spiritual pride is a disease in our religion. We are called to have humility, to turn away from pride just as Bishops are instructed to turn away from pride. There are times this will be incredibly difficult. When they come we must ask ourselves, whether an answer is forthcoming or not, what is God trying to teach us in the authority he has presently placed over us? God opposes the proud, but shows his favour to the humble, May he give us humility that we may be exalted in Christ in the end. Peter then says something that the last couple of years has taught me to be true – pride can often be the fruit of anxiety. Not trusting God’s sovereignty regardless of circumstance we think we know better than everyone else and set ourselves up as our own idols. Cast your anxieties upon the Lord if you would be humble, be humble and cling to Christ, who is going before you and behind you in your earthly pilgrimage, who prepares even now a heavenly place for you. He cares for you Peter tells the Antiochian Christians.

Here Peter issues a warning. Be alert. Be sober. Watch your hearts. The devil prowls around like a lion seeking who to devour. There is a spiritual force that accuses humanity as unworthy of the love of God. The Lord seeks to fill the world with men and women in his own image, who love what he loves and will his kingdom come despite all the trials and despairs they may face. The devil seeks to turn you into no men at all but livestock with the souls of livestock to be devoured. The devil is empty and would be satisfied where the Lord is full to overflowing and his pouring out his own self into the lives of his saints. God wants you to be servants who can be lifted up as sons and daughters. So watch your hearts, for from them all things flow, see that they cling to that which will endure to eternal life and not to sloth or pride or gluttony or lust or anger or empty vanities. Peter tells his readers that they are not being tempted and assaulted alone but with Christians around the world.

We have had a pretty comfortable existence as Christians in North America for a long time. Perhaps you feel that is coming to an end. It is all the more important then to ask that Jesus sort out our hearts that we may truly cling to that will endure and not choose ease and comfort and being accepted above the Lord whom this passing world, the flesh and the devil reject with their last screaming desperate breaths.

Peter gives in the face of this warning, his hope. He calls on the God of grace, the God whose work in us is accomplishing his purpose. Peter reminds us that it is God alone who can call us to faith, and to the hope that faith offers. That hope is of an everlasting glory in Jesus. Yes we will suffer now for a little while. All men are like grass and fade away. Our time is short, very very short. After we have endured we shall be restored. Although we quake now we will be made strong and steadfast by God, to praise him for ever. This life will dry us up, chew us up, refine us with fire, reject us and spit us out. This life is fleeting, and restoring rains are coming for our bodies planted as seeds in the ground. So let us give thanks for this hope which the world cannot take away.

Peter concludes with some final greetings. He thanks Silas who we know ministered together with Paul in Antioch, Berea, Thessalonika and Corinth, for helping him write the letter. He sends greetings from his son Mark, many seem to think this is the same John Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. He sends greetings from some other unnamed person in Babylon. Peter’s purpose in writing this book has been to encourage the faithful to endure. May God so help us to endure, and give us grace to gratefully and courageously stand more firmly than we have thus far, not in pride, but in confident hope. Amen.

Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; -Psalm 68:9