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Introduction: Living As Exiles in this World (Psalm 23 and 1 Peter 1:1-2)

For the next 3 months (except 1st Sunday), we’ll be looking at the book of 1 Peter. And may the Lord continue to sustain and guide us as we study his Word.

Let us read once again, Peter’s introduction (1 Peter 1:1-2).

CONTEXT

Now, in any study of God’s Word (sermon, personal study), it is important to understand the context of the whole book. What is the background?

  •  Who is the author? No question it is Peter (v.1; 5:1 – “… a witness of the sufferings of Christ”).
  •  Who are the recipients? Verses 1-2 indicate Christians. Jews or Gentiles?
    •  Jewish Christians
      • 1:1 – “Dispersion” (Diaspora) is originally applied to Jews (if taken literally) – To be picked up later
      • 2:12 – “Keep your conduct among Gentiles…” (if “Gentiles” taken literally, Peter may be talking to Jews. Otherwise, the “Gentiles” refers to unbelievers)
    • Stronger indications of Gentile Christians readership.
      • 1:14 – “… former ignorance”
      • 4:3 – “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do…” (Meaning, your past has been characterized by the things of unbelievers. But you’re not supposed to go back to it. cf. 4:4)
    • “Former ignorance” and “past life of sensuality and lawless idolatry” are more fitting characteristics of Gentile believers who were previously pagans.
    • Although the church in these region of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) is mixed with Jewish and Gentile believers, Peter must have in mind the majority as the Gentiles believers.
  • When was it written?
    • The entire letter indicates the Christians’ experience of suffering persecution. However, there is no indication yet of an explicit and empire-wide persecution and official government policy against Christians.
    • Also, cruelty and brutal persecutions began after the great fire in Rome in 64 AD under Emperor Nero (e.g., Christians are sewed with skins of wild beasts and bitten by dogs, or set on fire to light Nero’s garden). But the persecutions indicated in the letter are mostly verbal abuse and discrimination. (Hence it must be written before 64 AD)
    • Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean their suffering is simple and ordinary. Throughout the letter, these believers are reviled (nilalait), treated unjustly (maltrato) by their masters, and face misunderstanding or conflict with their unbelieving spouses.
    • So there’s a lot of social pressure upon them. (RELATE) An unlike in our day and country, (when being a Christian and having a different religion do not matter much to others)—being a Christian back then is being a threat to the society. Why? How?
  • Brief look at the Graeco-Roman culture back then. How was it like to be a Christian—Jew or Gentile—in the New Testament?
    • Religion in the past is more than about a belief in God or gods. It is not just a one part of life. Religion ruled and embraced all other aspects of family, business, society, and economy. People believed that their gods are responsible for their wealth, peace, and stability, and hence should be honored. (i.e., god of harvest, god of fertility, etc.)
    • Since Alexander the Great (300 BC), the Greek and Roman empire sought to unite the countries under their rule. And religious unity was very crucial both for political unity and economic welfare. Hence, the Graeco-Roman culture established syncretism (fusion of religious system of beliefs). Greek gods, Roman gods, Egyptian gods are all the same, and people honored each other’s gods.
    • Now, imagine the Jews and especially the Christians living within these communities. While others may be willing to honor the Christian God as a deity also, the Christian faith affirms that there is only one God and other gods are false gods. Imagine the Gentile Christians who once joined their families and communities in pagan worship, but now profess only one true God.
    • Today, when you leave your family religion, there’s often just emotional pressure. In the past, Christians are considered as a threat to the economic and social stability and welfare of the people.
    • So this is the background/context of the believers in Peter’s time. No wonder they were reviled and discriminated.

[TRANSITION]: And to these believers who are under pressure and suffering persecution, Peter writes a letter. Now, the first thing we see immediately in his introduction is the identity of these believers.

Subpoint 1: They are “In the world, but not of the world”

TEXT: 1 Peter 1:1 – “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion…”

“Dispersion” (Diaspora)

  • First used of the Jews in the OT (cf. Deut. 28, Jer. 41). God already determined that because of Israel’s disobedience, God will “scatter” them outside their home country. This began with Assyria, Babylon, and they continued to be scattered during the Persian, Greek, and Roman times.
  • Peter applies the same word to the Gentiles, implying that they are alsopart of God’s people scattered in the world.
  • Beside that, Peter refers to them as elect “exiles” of the Dispersion. Geographically speaking, the Jews are “exiles” in the dispersion. For their home country is Israel (cf. pilgrimage to Jerusalem). However, for the Gentiles, they are in their home country. How could they be “exiles?”
  • Figuratively speaking, while they are residents of their home countries, they should consider themselves far from their home—their heavenly home. (Not to remove themselves physically from the world, but to consider themselves not belonging [spiritually strangers] to the world).
  • APPLY: We may sometimes think that if only we could be isolated from people and worldly things—we will be truly spiritual. A Christian life does not mean we only consume Christians books, movies, restaurant, etc. (Example: As early Christian isolating myself in a room just listening sermons)
  • Yes, as Luther stated, “A new Christian must withdraw from the world for a season, but upon reaching spiritual maturity must embrace the [real] world.” Of course, not embracing the world in its worldliness, but seeing and using it the right way.
  • Read Romans 12:2
    • “Conformed” – To be formed after, to be formed like (similar)
    • Rather, “Transformed” – To be changed. In comparison, means to be superior beyond the ways and pattern of the world.
  • Example: Going to the gym not for vain reasons (e.g., to be more appealing to women), but so I can increase my strength and endurance in daily duties and in ministering to people.
  • Our calling as believers is not to cut ourselves off and disengage from the world, but to see the world from the perspective of God and his eternal redemption, and to use what we have in this world for God’s kingdom and glory. (Ang ating panawagan bilang mga mananampalataya ay hindi lubusang ilayo ang ating sarili sa mga tao o mga bagay sa mundong ito, kundi tingnan ang mundo mula sa pananaw ng Diyos at ng kanyang pagliligtas, at gamitin ang anumang meron tayo sa mundong ito para sa kaharian at kaluwalhatian ng Diyos.)
  • Clarification: Doesn’t mean we can now go to bars and casino. That is conformity. While we are in the world, we are not be to part of its worldliness. We flee from things that lead to worldliness, but we don’t flee/detach from the world itself.
  • “The world is a threatening place for someone to make a spiritual pilgrimage. But it is the only place we can have a spiritual pilgrimage. And it happens to be the arena of God’s redemption.” ~ R.C. Sproul
  • This world is full of threats—temptations, trials, persecutions, but it is the very place where God redeems us and brings us to himself.
  • We may not be persecuted like the Christians before. But we still experience trials, and so consider ourselves also as “exiles in the dispersion” here in this country and place. And what we need is not to be out of this world, but to be transformed in our minds and hearts while we live in this world and face its trials.

[TRANSITION]: How do we live in this world yet not be conformed to it? How do we face its trials and threats? We need a guide. We need God’s truth.

Subpoint 2: Peter gives them “A guidebook for pilgrims in this world”

Going back to Christ’s prayer in John 17:16-17, While they are in the world, “… sanctify them in the truth, your word in truth.”

And that’s exactly what Peter gives them: A guidebook about suffering and the Christian way of meeting it.

What is Peter’s message (themes):

  • Those “exiles,” they were “chosen” (elect) as God’s people
  • Believers are God’s people saved by the triune work of God (1:2 – Walang taong ligtas ang hindi pinili ng Ama, na hindi nilinis ng dugo ni Cristo, an hindi pinababanal ng Banal na Espiritu.)
  • Since they are God’s people, they are not the people of this world
  • Because they are not citizens of this world, it is not surprising that the world will hate them
  • And they have the example of Jesus Christ, who also suffered yet still lived in righteousness in the face of suffering.

Because of the social pressures from their unbelieving spouses and pagan surroundings, these believers were tempted to:

  • Live in grief rather than to rejoice (1:3 onwards)
  • Compromise their conduct before others (chapter 2)
  • Retaliate (maghiganti) to those who do evil against them (chapter 3)
  • Go back to worldliness (chapter 4)
  • Be impatient in times of adversity instead of trusting God, being humble and still love others (chapter 4-5)

This is what the enemy wants to happen to us under trials.

But Peter reminds them of their faith, encouraging them that as believers, they have a living hope:

  • Their suffering is ultimately for their good
  • Christ already suffered so they can live in righteousness
  • The Spirit dwells in them and that God will keep them until the end, when their suffering turns into glory.

In the end of the letter, Peter writes (5:12),

  • “… I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God” (the grace of God revealed in their faith, which Peter declared in his whole letter).
  • “Stand firm in it.” (In the midst of suffering and persecution, do not forsake your faith. This is God’s truth declaring his grace and promises. Stand firm in it.)

APPLY: We’ll learn more about these truths as we go along the epistle. But we observe here that Peter did not simply write, “Good luck sa trials and sufferings niyo. I’ll pray for you.” As an apostle, he is Christ’s representative, and he gives them the very Word of God.

  • Likewise, how much we need God’s Word! The tendency for us to step back from God’s Word when we’re weak and discouraged with life. All the more should we long for God’s Word.
  • We need to see life and its trials from the perspective of God’s truth
  • Hence, the blessing that every Lord’s Day, God gives us his Word to prepare us to engage with the world the coming week. And as we engage with the world, we look forward to this blessed day to be refreshed, reminded, rebuked, and comforted by God’s Word.
  • And to hear God’s Word is both a privilege and obligation. To enjoy the privilege of God’s Word, let us be diligent to hear and obey God’s Word. Let us not only hear but stand firm in it.

[TRANSITION]: Now in his introduction, how does Peter open his letter to these weary pilgrims?

Subpoint 3: Peter proclaims “God’s greeting to pilgrims under trials”

Verse 2 – “… May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

  • Grace — God’s disposition towards his people, favor, goodwill (mabuting kalooban)
  • Peace — State of well-being, corresponding to the Hebrew concept of soundness in health (magandang kalagayan, kabutihan)

This is similar to Paul’s introduction in his epistles. And greetings like this in the past indicates the sender’s goodwill (or relationship) to the recipient (ex. When emailing a client).

  • This is not just a greeting of Peter. As an apostle of Christ, these words are the very words of Christ. Not just a greeting but a declaration of divine blessing.
  • Though they are suffering, God is with them (like a Shepherd, cf. 2:25)

APPLY: Receiving God’s greeting to us with comfort and hope

  • Not just a mark of the opening of our worship service, but God’s declaration of his blessing upon us. *That’s why don’t be late in the Lord’s Day service. The preaching of the Word is indeed the principal means of grace that we receive. But the entire service filled with the Word of God is also God’s means of grace.
  • LIke these early Christians, we are also weary pilgrims. Every day we get bombarded by the trials and temptations of this world. But instead of declaring curse and wrath, he declares grace and peace.
  • To you all who are weary of this mortal life, run to Christ to whom you will find grace and peace for your souls. You’ll never find it elsewhere than in God who declares and gives grace and peace to sinners.

Conclusion: Though we are strangers and exiles in this world, we are not pilgrims wandering without a guide or a sheep without a shepherd. While we face the trials and persecutions of this life, Christ by the Spirit promises to be with us and bless us with his grace and peace. May that be our encouragement.

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