WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH, 1 Peter 5:8 – 14, October 1, 2020
Reflection | Peter began to wrap up his first letter to the Christians in Asia Minor with specific directions to those who serve in positions of leadership as elders. Using the popular biblical image of shepherding, he portrays the elders as the “hired help” or the under-shepherds who lead by first following the Chief Shepherd, who is Jesus Christ. Peter then extends his instructions beyond the elders to include all who are a part of the Church. The central theme of his guidance, much like the whole of his letter, is a call to humility – first in our relationship with God and then through our mutual submission to each other.
Peter, however, recognizes that humbling ourselves does not come easy. The language of submission raises difficulties for many of us because of painful associations with arbitrary, punitive, injurious, and oppressive exercises of authority by those who professed to speak in the name of God. At the same time, our own ego or sense of pride – our desire to have power and to be in control – also can foster our resistance to a posture of humility. Fear is a powerful motivator – especially the fear of loss. Instead of focusing on our fear, Peter coached us to “Cast all your anxiety on God because He cares for you” (verse 7).
Peter builds upon this charge for the rest of the letter. He adds, “Be alert and of sober mind” (verse 8). Our fears have a tendency to overtake and compromise us. We can give to God what we are not aware of in ourselves. Therefore, we need to be attentive in facing and naming our anxieties so that we can purposefully release them into the Lord’s hands. Maintaining this level of preparedness demands sobriety of mind. Peter twice already has cautioned about this – being calm, collected, and clear-headed. (see 1:13 and 4:7).
Both vigilance and seriousness are necessary because, as Peter makes clear, the battle before us is not just from within ourselves. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” It is not just our fears that can cripple us. There is an adversary, there are spiritual forces that play upon our fears.
The existence of the devil and the demonic is not in question. Jesus believed in the devil. Christ encountered Satan in direct spiritual conflict. Peter, himself, briefly succumbed to the devil’s influence (see Mark 8:27-33). Contrary to the assertions of many, some even within the Church, the devil is more than a convenient myth to explain the reality of evil in this world. The devil and the demonic are spiritual forces opposed to God and all God stands for.
Peter describes the work of the devil being like that of a lion that stalks its prey – one that is so hungry, it roars aloud and does not mask its approach. The Greek verb translated into our Bibles as “to devour” is a word that literally means “to drown” or “to swallow.” The endgame of the devil and the demonic is to consume us through our fears and our pride. Simply put, the more the Enemy can tempt and distract us to focus on ourselves, the less we become attentive to and reliant upon the presence and power of God.
Something important to understand is the devil is not omnipotent. Biblically, the devil is not a rival to God as though the forces of evil are as powerful as the Lord. There is no duality between good and evil in the scriptures. One of the declarations of the Gospel is that the devil and the forces of evil have been defeated through the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. Despite how it may appear, that devil and the demonic has no ultimate power over those who follow Jesus. Our forgiveness and our salvation are secure in Christ.
The influence and impact of the devil and the demonic in the life of a Christian is relative to our succumbing to them and giving them power. And make no mistake, even though they’ve already lost because of Christ and even though their destiny is annihilation when all things are made new, the devil and the demonic look for every opportunity to take a bite out of our faith. Therefore, these spiritual forces opposed to God remain dangerous and formidable foe.
While our eternal destination and redemption remain untouchable, the devil can inflict and consequential harm in our journey to follow Christ. Our fears can be kindled so as to shake our submission to our Father. Our confidence can be undermined by lies that distort our trust in God’s goodness. Our pride can be inflated to a level that diminishes both our reliance upon and our acknowledgment of the Lord. Our focus can become perpetually distracted so that rather than learning to grow and mature through our experiences, we instead just numbly or ignorantly move from one moment to the next.
So then, how should Christians live, beyond attentively and seriously believing in a real devil: a spiritual enemy with an agenda to bring harm to those who follow Jesus? “Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (verse 9). Again, notice what Peter doesn’t tell us to do. He doesn’t instruct us to cower in the shadows. Nor does he say to live as if the reality of the devil is unimportant.
No, Peter tells us we can and should resist the devil. Resistance means when we are provoked or attacked by the forces of evil to fight back. This stands in complete contrast to Peter’s earlier words in this letter about submitting to those in authority – governing bodies, employers, and heads of household. When it comes to the devil, Peter calls us to resist – to do the exact opposite of submission – because unlike all those other instances, the devil has no authority over us.
Fighting back means not going on the offensive but “standing firm in the faith.” Ours is a defensive posture. We do not fight fire with fire – this is playing the game of our Enemy. The strategic aim of the devil is to distant us from and to weaken our dependence on the Father who loves us and who promises us His strength to meet our needs. Therefore, the more we take refuge in the shelter of the Lord, the less ground, or opening we give to the demonic.
Peter indirectly acknowledges the forces of evil often use persecution and the suffering we face as a means of luring us out into the open. In order that we may not be deceived by this ploy, he reminds us we are not alone in facing such an attack. He writes, “because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” His words still ring true for Christians throughout the world today.
Notice, Peter calls us to “stand firm in the faith.” Our protection, our safeguard against the snares and assaults of the devil is not our faith in Christ which can fluctuate and change as it grows and matures. It is rather Jesus’ faith in us – which is perfect and unchanging. What we stand on is not our promises to God but His unbreakable promises to us. Standing firm then is not a matter of our individual will but our collective dependence in being filled with the Holy Spirit, fed by the Word of God, and serving together as Christ’s Body.
Peter reinforces this as he lays out the “roadmap” of our inevitable and eventual victory over all the forces of evil. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (verse 10). This one verse is a beautiful summary of the whole of Peter’s letter. The reality of suffering is once again invoked. Hardship and heartache persist in a broken world that is being healed. Healing unavoidably involves discomfort and pain. Suffering results from answering the challenge of following Jesus. To follow Jesus is to encounter the same resistance and rejection that Christ endured in the name of God’s love, truth, and mercy.
Suffering is real but, thanks to the grace of God, it will be limited both in its scope and its time. One day, all our suffering will end. One day, suffering will no longer exist as a possibility. And no matter what happens – what has happened, Peter assures us, God will restore us.
Our restoration in Christ is, however, more than a reset. In the midst of all the weakness that plagues us now, we will get more than our strength back. Before the diminishment and weariness that comes with age, we will receive more than a return of all that has been lost. As we often find ourselves to be wavering, often existing in between the extremes, we will obtain more than balance and certainty.
When our Father calls us home, when Jesus returns to unveil a new creation, we will be made stronger than ever before. We will gain more than we have lost. We will profit from not just the security and stability of the present but the possibilities and opportunities of eternity. That’s our future, our destiny. That’s what’s coming, for those who stand firm in the One whom Peter declares is “the power for ever and ever” (verse 11).
Peter signs off with a personal note. He reveals that he has written this letter through the hand of a scribe, a man named Silas. This one whom Peter refers to “as a faithful brother” (verse 12) is likely the same person who traveled and worked with the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey (see 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; and 2 Thessalonians 1:1). In acknowledging Silas, Peter states his purpose for writing in the first place, “testifying that this is the true grace of God” and then repeats his closing charge “Stand fast in it.” It is not enough merely to assent to the grace of God. The grace of God is something we must actively live out of in order to truly benefit from it.
The second to last line of Peter’s letter has caused much discussion. “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark” (verse 13). Most scholars and some biblical translations have defaulted to understanding that the “she” Peter refers to as a local church, specifically the Christian community in Rome. “Babylon” was the common, biblical metaphor – a code word employed to safely speak of a nation or state opposed to God’s people. The city of Rome, at the time Peter was writing, epitomized both the political and geographical center of the Roman Empire. Peter may have been using this cypher as a means of protecting, while at the same time pointing to, the Christians in Rome.
It is worth noting, however, it is also plausible that this “she” is, like Mark, an individual person, a woman who served in some role in the Church. The specific grammar of this sentence allows for this possibility. If this is true, who might this woman be? Some speculate it could be Peter’s wife. Others conjecture that it might be John Mark’s mother. And there are those who ponder if it is one of the two unnamed female disciples of Christ mentioned by Paul at the end of his letter to the Romans (see Romans 16:13-16).
Whatever the case, Peter attests that those who are with him have been called by God to serve alongside him. This includes Mark, whom though Peter refers to as a “son” more than likely means his son in the faith – a disciple of his – and not his biological child. Most scholars agree this is the same Mark, also known as John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, who travelled and ministered with Paul on his first missionary journey.
Peter’s final words convey his love and his hope for those in Asia Minor. He encourages them to “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (verse 14). Such a gesture of intimacy was a common greeting between friends in the ancient world as it still remains in some parts of the globe today. Peter prays for “Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Written in this way, Peter extends his heartfelt hope for all who read his letter – including us – to find our calm and our solace in the only place, in the only One who can deliver it – Jesus.
It is my eager hope that this devotional series has given God glory. I also pray that through this series the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has been made real to you and that you have encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ in your spirit. Please feel free to share your feedback or comments with me via [email protected] –Pastor Chris
Consider & Discuss | In our everyday living, we might encounter all sorts of danger both from within and around us. What are some of the obvious dangers you need to avoid, to resist? What dangers might be less obvious but still require care? Where are you most vulnerable to attack and to temptation? What dangers do you need to pay attention and take more seriously in order to protect your relationship with Christ? Where is Jesus calling you to abide more in Him in order to empower and strengthen you? What are some ways that you have seen God work in your trials?
As we close our study in 1 Peter, reflect back on the lessons from this book. How has the Holy Spirit challenged and encouraged you through Peter’s words? What are some of the main takeaways for you from this letter?
Prayer Focus | Take some time to become still in God’s presence. Slow your breathing through the following exercise adapted from “Contemplating the Cross” by Tricia Rhodes.
Inhale: Breathe in the peace of Christ. Exhale: Breath out the anxiety of the day.
Inhale: Breath in the gentleness of Christ. Exhale: Breath out mental clutter and distraction.
Inhale: Breath in freedom in Christ. Exhale: Breath out that which binds you.
Inhale: Breath in the joy of Christ. Exhale: Breath out discouragement.
Inhale: Breath in the love of Christ. Exhale: Breath out selfishness and personal agendas.
Continue doing this until you feel ready to meet God according to His will for your life.
Bonus Prayer Exercise:
Peter writes that the persecution and suffering of the Christians in Asia Minor is not isolated – “because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (verse 9). Spend some time praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith throughout the world. Use this link to guide your prayers: Open Doors: World Watch List