SET APART, NOT SET ASIDE: 1 Peter 1:1-2 July 21, 2020
Reflection | As we begin this new devotional series on the apostle Peter’s first recorded letter in the New Testament, let us take a moment to remember who Peter was and to better understand to whom Peter was writing. His birth name was Simon. The son of Jonah or John, Simon, like his father was a fisherman. His brother, Andrew, was the one who introduced Simon to Jesus. Sometime thereafter, on the other side of a futile night of fishing, Simon was called to follow Christ in the promise of a bigger catch – the reclamation of people!
Simon, joined by his brother, Andrew, then became one of Jesus’ original disciples. In fact, Simon, along with James and John, became part of the inner circle of Jesus’ closest friends and followers. His name was changed by Jesus from Simon to Petra or Peter, which means “rock,” on the other side of his divinely inspired confession of Jesus as the Messiah or the Christ. At that moment, playing on this name change, Jesus proclaimed a community of faith would be built on the foundation of the witness of disciples like Peter.
The witness of Simon Peter as provided through the four gospel accounts is of a person who reflected an earnest but often impulsive faith in Jesus. His confession of Jesus as Messiah is contrasted with his three-fold denial of even knowing who Jesus was. His boldness to get out of a boat and walk on the water to Jesus soon gives away to his fear of drowning and he begins to sink into the depths of the Sea of Galilee.
Whether by divine providence or personal initiative or perhaps a little of both, Peter ends up being the spokesperson for the rest of the disciples. When Jesus was among them, Peter seems to be voicing what the rest of them are thinking. When Jesus ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit descends upon all of them at Pentecost, it is again, Peter who speaks up in order to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. From then on, Peter and the apostle John serve as the first leaders of the Church as it first begins as a community within Jerusalem.
In this role, Peter initially perceived himself as an evangelist exclusively to the Jews. However, after a disconcerting vision from the Holy Spirit, immediately followed by a divine appointment at the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius, Peter’s vision for the sharing of the Gospel was widened. He then understood the invitation of the Kingdom of God through Christ was for all people: Jews and Gentiles alike. Eventually, Peter, along with his wife (see 1 Cor. 9:5), went abroad to share the Gospel as a missionary, leaving James, the brother of Jesus, to assume the leadership of the Jerusalem church.
This letter we will studying over these next few weeks is one of many he likely wrote during that time. Some have questioned whether Peter is actually the author of this letter. This is due in part to how well-crafted and well-written this letter is in the original Greek language. How is it that a fisherman, who was adequately educated at best, could pen such a carefully written correspondence using such eloquent and nuanced Greek?
I would argue we discover the answer to this question at the end of 1 Peter. In chapter 5, verse 12, Peter acknowledges someone named Silas (Silvanus) had helped him in writing the letter. This was a common practice back in the ancient world – for letters to be dictated to a writing partner or secretary. These writing partners were given license to compose the content of the message in their own manner. So, it’s Peter’s thoughts expressed through Silas’ writing style that we will be reflecting upon over these next few weeks together.
As with most of the letters we read in the New Testament, Peter begins with a greeting that introduces us to his intended audience as well as his specific purpose for writing. In verse 1, Peter addresses “God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” All of the provinces referenced by Peter were in Asia Minor, or what is modern-day Turkey. Peter intentionally lists them sequentially in terms of their geographic locations. This indicates Peter intended for this letter to be read widely among multiple faith communities. It was to be passed along from church to church within all of these provinces. But to whom exactly was Peter writing this letter?
Some scholars argue Peter’s primary audience were largely Christian Jews. The word translated in this verse as “scattered” is in the Greek language in which Peter was writing, the word is diaspora, a technical term referring to the forcible dispersion of the Jews away from their home in Israel to other foreign lands. The various parts of Asia Minor, or what is modern-day Turkey, that Paul calls out all were locations where a sizable population of Jews had resettled. In addition, we find several quotations and terms from the Old Testament peppered throughout Peter’s writing – allusions a Jewish audience would have no trouble understanding.
Despite this, most theologians identify Peter to be addressing Gentile Christians through this letter. Specifically, it is believed Peter was writing to Gentile believers who first became converts to Judaism and then came to know and learn about Jesus through their participation in the Jewish synagogue. The pattern we witness in the Book of Acts, where the Gospel is first shared in the local synagogue and then out among the wider public, would support this view. Peter, then, speaks of the Christian faith from a Hebrew lens because this was his custom and practice in sharing the Gospel.
No matter where one falls in terms of this debate, the overall language of Peter’s letter is highly inclusive – addressing all Christians, the whole Church, regardless of whether one was a Jew or a Gentile. These believers living in the northern and western provinces of Asia Minor were united in the rising persecution they were facing for their faith in Christ. To many of their surrounding neighbors, their habits and practices as followers of Jesus were, at best seen as odd, and at their worst, perceived as being disloyal to the Roman Empire.
Peter reaches out to support and strengthen these communities that find themselves under fire. As this letter unfolds, Peter will provide instruction for how to live – not just to survive but to thrive – in a difficult and challenging communal environment. For now, however, Peter seeks to encourage these believers with his opening words. Sometimes when we experience hardship or suffering we can feel singled out or picked on. Those to whom Peter is writing view themselves as “exiles” and thus, continuing targets of oppression.
While the readers of this letter were geographic separated and facing difficult circumstances, Peter seeks to reframe their perception of their identity and destiny by appealing to through their relationship with God. In one of the few scriptures that mention all three members of the Trinity, Peter refers to these believers as those who “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (v. 2). The word “chosen” used in this verse is the same word translated as “elect” in verse 1. With these opening verses, Paul reassures his readers they are not abandoned or alone. Rather, they, like all whom the Lord calls, have been set apart “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ.”
Becoming obedient to Jesus is another way of describing our transformation into the full character of Christ. We must remember Jesus embodied the perfection of our humanity in relationship to God. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we witness what it truly means to be human – being all we were created to be.
Therefore, as those “sprinkled with the blood” of Jesus, we are marked not as excluded but rather invited to become our very best, whole and complete selves in Christ. And the primary change agent driving this work is not our own strength or brilliance; it is the presence, power, and direction of the Holy Spirit. In short, God our Father calls us, Jesus the Son both shows and clear the way forward, and the Holy Spirit enables us to follow.
And what awaits us on this journey of transformation? Peter shares this too. “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” With these words of both promise and of blessing, our exploration of this amazing letter begins…
Consider & Discuss | Peter begins the letter by reminding us of the greatness of our salvation. How does understanding and appreciating the fullness of our salvation help us reframe how we perceive the journey of the Christian life?
Do you view yourself as an exile or as one who has been chosen by God? How are you functionally living and engaging this world – as an exile or as a follower of Jesus – covered by the blood of Christ and empowered by the Spirit? What might it look like to live more like the former rather than the latter?
Prayer Focus | Heavenly Father, thank You for the life and ministry of Peter and for the Spirit-driven wisdom and perspective of this letter he wrote to followers of Jesus like us. As we read and reflect on Your words spoken through him, give us a teachable spirit and guide us into all truth. Humble us in the reality that we have not chosen You as much as You first chose us in coming to us through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Breath Your Spirit upon us and guide into following wherever and to whomever You lead us during this study. May Your grace and peace abound through this journey. Amen.