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Making sense of 1 Peter

There are a lot of moving parts in 1 Peter so that as you make your way through the letter it can seem like a hodgepodge of loosely related discussions rather than s single. cohesive message. After all, he moves from "inexpressible and glorious joy" (1:8), to submitting to the civil authorities (2:13), to Christ preaching to the spirits in prison (3:19-20). That's a lot of territory covered in three chapters! Part of the perceived disconnect for us is due to the fact that we are so far removed from the time and the circumstance under which the letter was written.

One of the major truths that can help bring everything together is the major truth that the disciples Peter is writing to were under attack because of their faith. They weren't just Jewish people living in a Gentile world, they were Jewish Christians, so they were on the outs both in the larger world and in their smaller Jewish one. They caught grief from both sides.

They were outsiders who didn't fit in. They didn't worship the gods the Gentiles did or participate in the pagan parties that went hand-in-hand with such worship. Their Lord was Someone named Jesus who they claimed had risen from the dead and was coming back again. Every first day of the week they had some kind of gathering where they would eat tokens of His flesh and blood. It all would have sounded strange and a little threatening. After all, their Lord was not Caesar but Jesus. Because of this, disciples were mistreated and marginalized.

Peter's instructions to them can be summarized by saying that he tells them to continue to live out the story of Jesus before the world. Like disciples of all times and places, they had three choices (Thompson). They could compromise their belief and behaviors in order to get along and make things easier on themselves. Jesus could be a lord rather than Lord. They could adopt some of the Gentile behaviors (see 4:4). Compromise is always an option for the disciple and there are always people who do it. As I write this, there is a religious group about to split because some want to live out the story and others want to compromise. But compromise is not the way of Jesus. 

A second option was for the disciples to go the other way and continue to live out the story but do so in relative isolation. They would just avoid contact with non-disciples as much as they possibly could. That would also make things easier on them but again, it wouldn't be the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus was to live out the story in before the world. That was the third option and was what they had been doing.

It's also why Peter tells them to live holy live (1:16-17) and to love one another deeply (1:22). It's why they were to live submissive lives (2:13,17, 3:1,5) and do good (2:15,20, 3:11,13,17, 4:19). These are not to be viewed as a collection of unrelated behaviors but specific aspects of living out the story. Is this a challenging way to live? Any disciple can tell you it is at times. More to the point, living out the story will inevitably lead to friction with some unbelievers. This is why the theme of suffering is prominent in 1 Peter. Living like Jesus will lead to suffering for Jesus. 

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