4 Reasons You Should Preach through 1 Peter
Christians easily lose sight of the glorious inheritance that awaits them. A good deal of sin in the church is the result of 1) Christians being too comfortable in this world, or 2) Christians failing to grasp the eternal hope that enables them to push on in obedience. The letter of 1 Peter addresses these issues more directly and succinctly than any other book of the Bible. This letter reminds us that we are pilgrims in this world, and it spurs us on to a life of godliness in this world with the coming world in mind.
If you have never preached through 1 Peter, I would strongly encourage you to do so soon. It might save you a lot of time in counseling sessions, and it will bring hope and joy to your congregation.
In this article I’ll provide four reasons your church would benefit from an expositional series through 1 Peter. But before we get to those reasons, let me give you a one-sentence summary of the main idea of the letter:
First Peter reminds Christians that they are elect exiles in this world and, in their pilgrimage, calls them to focus on three key relationships: 1) with the God who elected them; 2) with the world they are living in; and 3) with the brothers and sisters who are their fellow pilgrims.
1 PETER REMINDS US THAT WE ARE ELECT EXILES IN THE WORLD.
Peter addresses his readers as “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1). Many Christians in the West urgently need to be reminded that we too are elect exiles. Far too often we live as if this world were our home. But it is not. We are pilgrims who have been born again to a living hope and to an inheritance that is being kept in heaven for us (1:3ff). Peter helps us set our hope and joy on what is yet unseen and reminds us that our pilgrimage will lead us through various trials and grief. God allows these trials to come into our lives to test and purify our faith (1:6f).
Thus 1 Peter is highly applicable for those who are facing trials, and it is highly applicable for those who have lost sight of the goal to which we have been called. If your people don’t struggle with these two things, you might want to preach through another book of the Bible before turning to 1 Peter. But if they do, don’t underestimate how greatly God might help your people in their various trials by preaching 1 Peter.
1 PETER HELPS “ELECT EXILES” IN THREE KEY RELATIONSHIPS
1. With the God Who Has Elected Us
Undoubtedly, all of Scripture calls us to a relationship with God. But many Christians have an unbiblical understanding of what this means. They think of this relationship as one entered into by two parties who agreed to come together. First Peter corrects this erroneous thinking, emphasizing that God alone was responsible for our relationship with him. Peter makes this point plain in his opening paragraph (1:1–2), and he continues to remind his readers of this fact (1:3, 1:15, 2:9, 3:9, 5:10).
Peter demonstrates how all three persons of the Trinity work together to accomplish this task. Our election is based on the “foreknowledge of God the Father” (1:2). He calls us to bless the Father for our salvation, which was achieved through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ (1:3, 1:18–21, 2:21–24). The benefits of redemption are then applied “in the sanctification of the Spirit” (1:2). Preaching through 1 Peter will remind your church that our relationship to God is based solely on his sovereign will and work, which should lead us to worship him.
Furthermore, 1 Peter reminds us that God is with us in the sorrows and struggles of life. Through his power he guards us until our final salvation will be revealed (1:5). God will “restore, confirm, strengthen and establish” his elect (5:10). Weak and struggling Christians need to be reminded of God’s sovereign care.
Finally, Peter reminds us that God’s election was so that we might receive great and certain promises. We have “been born again to a living hope . . . to an inheritance . . . and for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:3–5). Peter uses this to call the elect exiles to a life of holiness. If your church members need to be reminded of God’s call to holiness, 1 Peter provides the medicine they need. His call to holiness is firmly rooted in what God has done for us, is doing in us, and will do for us when he brings his grace to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:13ff). First Peter grounds the confidence of the elect exiles in the immovable God who has elected them, who is with them and who will safely lead them home.
2. With the World in Which We Live
Peter addresses believers as exiles. We were once at home in the world. But then God intervened and called us out of the world and made them his children. Our adoption into God’s household should change how we live. Peter explains: “As obedient children, do not be 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 Pet 1:14).
Pastors, we must remind our people that they no longer belong to this world. We are prone to conform to the world we live in, but we are called by God to be distinct from the it. In 4:3–4, Peter challenges the elect exiles by pointing out that they have previously spent enough time doing what the godless do. Now, living as exiles, they will not find the approval of this world. Christians need to prepare themselves for the world’s rejection and for the accompanying persecution (3:14, 3:17, 4:4, 4:13f, 5:10) because they are called to follow Christ who himself endured much pain and suffering (1:11, 2:21ff, 3:18, 4:1, 4:13).
While elect exiles can at times be painfully aware that they do not belong to this world, God has placed them into this world for a reason. First Peter repeatedly calls Christians to live in a way that entices the interest of unbelievers: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (2:11–12). Godly lives will provoke questions. Peter reminds us that we should not only live so that as to provoke questions, but that we should also be prepared to respond “to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15).
None of this is easy, of course. But God helps his elect exiles so that they successfully pass through this world to their ultimate home. One way that God helps elect exiles to reach the goal is by giving them fellow pilgrims. This is the third key relationship to address when preaching 1 Peter.
3. With Our Fellow Pilgrims
While 1 Peter is not directly addressed to a local church, it addresses elect exiles corporately and calls them to be pilgrims in this world together. In our individualistic age we need to hear Peter’s exhortation. Repeatedly he calls elect exiles to brotherly love (1:22, 3:8, 4:8) and to unite as living stones being built up as a spiritual house (2:4f). As exiles in this world we should be there for one another and should serve one another with our God-given gifts (4:10). We today— as much as the elect exiles back then— need to be challenged to think and act in this way. Our heavenly Father has given his elect exiles all we need to make it through the trials of this world, but he has not given everything we need to each person individually. Instead, he has given us everything we need corporately, and we therefore need to share with each other as we sojourn together through this world.
Lastly, preaching 1 Peter will not only challenge your church members to serve each other in brotherly love, but it will also challenge you and your fellow elders to exercise your responsibility in the same way. Teach through 5:1–4 and consider ways to regularly meditate on it in your elders’ meetings. But it’s also good for your church to hear these verses so that they are better equipped to appoint those as elders who are truly willing to serve as under-shepherds. Your church should learn from 1 Peter to appoint elders who are following the example of Christ and humbly serving the Chief Shepherd—until he appears and our pilgrimage comes to an end.
A JOURNEY THROUGH EXILE
The members of your church are elect exiles in this world. Yet, growing comfortable in the world, we often forget this fact. First Peter teaches us about our good and merciful God who gave us a new identity and a citizenship in heaven, who helps us persevere as long as we live in this world, and who will safely bring us home. To help your people prepare for our rapidly secularizing and increasingly hostile culture, preach through 1 Peter.
* * * * *
Commentary on Peter & Jude, Martin Luther. This might be my national bias, but Martin Luther’s classic is well worth reading.
I and II Peter, Jude (The New American Commentary), Thomas R. Schreiner. This commentary will help you understand the text and the flow of Peter’s arguments. Schreiner is also very helpful in drawing in and explaining Old Testament background and allusions.
The Message of 1 Peter (The Bible Speaks Today), Edmund Clowney. Once you have done your exegetical homework, Clowney’s insights can be very helpful in structuring your sermon and applying the text.
1 Peter (Reformed Expository Commentary), Daniel M. Doriani. I love the whole REC series and found this volume particularly helpful in thinking more about how 1 Peter applies to my life and the lives of others in our congregation.