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everyday life inside the fishbowl

Thursday Thoughts: Peace in an Unpeaceful World

on February 26, 2015

PeaceOur ladies’ Bible study at church just completed a study on the book of 1 Peter. It was such a good book to study! I really enjoyed it and learned so much. I was reminded of the importance of studying Scripture in context. Just having finished the book, Peter’s closing words (5:14b) have been on my mind:

“Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

Reading this verse quickly on its own may make this verse sound like just a good way to end a letter, but having studied this book as a whole, it seems like there is a lot more bound up in Peter’s final words.

One of the themes that we found throughout the book is suffering. There were various kinds of suffering present. Chapter 1 states that “now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (vv 6-7).

Much of this suffering would have led to some level of unrest, lack of peace. So, what kind of suffering did Peter address that may have led to the robbery of some aspect of peace?

Religious Suffering: No Peace to Worship without Persecution

Peter wrote to Christians spread out all over Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He wrote likely from Rome around 64 A.D., during Nero’s terrifying reign. Christians were being persecuted in Rome, as well as other parts of the world. In fact, Peter wrote this letter only a few years before (as tradition states) Peter watched his own wife’s death, followed by his own crucifixion upside down in Rome. The point is, Peter was writing to a people who were suffering for their belief in Christ.

Peter actually tells believers not to be surprised when they suffer as a Christian. Note his gentle reminder:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. . . . If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. . . . Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (4:12, 16, 19).

Peter, who was “a witness to the sufferings of Christ” (5:1),  points us often to Christ’s sufferings. In 4:1, he says “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh [i.e., he was killed], arm yourselves with the same way of thinking [italics added; i.e., prepare yourselves to also suffer, even to the point of death].” He goes on to encourage suffering believers to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (4:13). The reason suffering believers can rejoice is that they have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and  unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1: 3-5).

Internal Suffering: No Peace from Sin

While believers can certainly “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13), the reality is that believers are still at war with sin–temptations that arise from our sinful passions, as well as temptations from Satan and the world.

Peter calls us to be “preparing your minds for action,” a phrase that literally means gird up the loins of your mind. This literal phraseology refers to soldiers of the day who would pull up their robes to prepare to fight a battle. We are to prepare our minds to battle, so that we are not “conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1:14-15).

In 4:1-6, Peter calls believers, as mentioned above, to arm themselves (note the battle terminology again) with the kind of thinking that prepares us to suffer for Christ to the point of death. Believers do this by not living for human passions, but for God’s will. Unbelievers will notice a believer’s holy living with surprise, which will eventually turn into maligning for not joining in their sinful behavior.

Peter finally calls us to be sober-minded, watchful, and resistant to Satan, who seeks to devour and cause us to lose faith (5:8-9).

Political Suffering: No Peace from the Government

Another theme in 1 Peter, often closely related to suffering, is submission. While everyone was to be subject to their God-given authority, Peter specifically discusses a few relationships requiring submission (and sometimes suffering).

Peter commanded that we all “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors” (1:13-14). Remember that Peter likely wrote during Nero’s reign–this was no simple command to submit! Peter even goes as far as to say, “Honor the emperor” (v. 17). While Nero’s (or any governmental leader’s) horrible actions deserved no honor, his position as emperor earned him a God-mandated submission and honor.

Societal Suffering: No Peace in Social Rank

Peter addresses servants/slaves in 2:18-25. He told them that they were to be respectfully subject/submissive to their masters, even` when their masters were unjust. One can imagine that some, if not many, were then “suffering unjustly” (v. 19).  Yet, Peter once again pointed these people to Jesus who also suffered unjustly at the hands of unjust authorities, yet “did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges rightly” (v. 23).

Marital Suffering: No Peace in Relationships

Peter encouraged wives to submit to their husbands (3:1-6).  Specifically, Peter wrote to wives whose husbands were unbelievers. One can imagine the strife that may have been present in the marriages of a male-dominated culture, in which a wife was a believer and the husband was a pagan. Yet still, the wives were to graciously obey in all areas not sin and submit to their husbands–whether believing or not– motivated by their hope in God (another theme in Peter).

Pastoral Suffering: No Peace in Ministry

Peter, a pastor himself, also wrote to fellow pastors to encourage them (5:1-4). Though suffering is not explicitly mentioned, the implication is that ministry can be very difficult. He encourages pastors to shepherd willingly and eagerly, mindful that the chief Shepherd will give them an unfading crown of glory.

Peace in the Midst of Suffering

So, Peter ends a book that talks about all kinds of suffering–suffering from religious persecution, suffering due to our struggles with sin, suffering from oppressive government, suffering from social status, suffering in relationships, and suffering in ministry. He ends it with a glorious reminder,

“Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

So, how do we have peace in the midst of suffering? The clue is found in Peter’s closing comment itself. Those who are in Christ have peace.

Those who are in Christ are the people who have hope. They have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and  unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1: 3-5).

Those who are in Christ are God’s people. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (2:9-10).

Those who are in Christ are exiles, just passing through this world, with an eternal home waiting for us. We are “sojourners and exiles” (2:11) who hope in the living Jesus Christ in heaven who keeps for us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and  unfading” (1:3-4).

Those who are in Christ “believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1:8-9).

This is how we can have peace in the midst of suffering. Peace in the midst of suffering can result only from a hope in the risen Lord who promises a future of perfect justice and final grace. We read of truth and grace in the “good news” (1:25), the imperishable “living and abiding word of God” (1:23).  And we “stand firm in it” (5:12). We have faith in what God has done for us through Jesus and we have hope that he will help us obtain the outcome of that faith, the salvation of our souls. And this brings unshakeable peace.

So, if I could borrow Peter’s closing, encouraging phrase, “Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

{On Thursdays, I share some thoughts about what God is teaching me in my various roles as a Christian, a woman, a wife, a mother, and a pastor’s wife.}

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