1 Peter 1: 3 – 9
The scattering of the Christian Jewish diaspora over Asia Minor was the result of the Roman Emperor Nero’s persecution in Jerusalem. Hence, the tenor of Peter’s epistle was full of distressing images from all walks of life (2:18; 3:1,2; 4:14, 17), penned to encourage the suffering believers. It seemed, he was also preparing them for more vicious forms of persecution yet to come (4:12-19). In the face of such calamitous circumstances, what was Peter’s advice in preparing them for the unmitigated sacrifice they were going through?
Peter was not unaware how a sustained pernicious persecution would degrade the believers’ hopes and eventually their faith. Consequently, he spoke of a ‘living hope’ (v.3) that would encourage them. Hope, as used by the New Testament writers, was distinctive, characterized by firmness, by certainty, by an expectancy that was grounded in God Himself and His promises, a hope that was able to survive the various trials that the believers experienced. This hope was alive, with a power that inevitably produces change in life when they were engaged with it. And there was only one way to its acquisition, viz., through the believer’s new birth: by receiving the living and enduring word of God, the gospel, they were born anew in faith, which was made possible because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (v.3; 1:23). Paul too knew the significance of this when he proclaimed, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1 Cor 15:17; 4-8). The Lord’s resurrection held the key to this ‘living hope.’
In what appears to be a concise theological synopsis, Peter then refocused them on the foundational roots of their hope; stating that the transitory nature of their temporal sojourn in this world, cannot be compared to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unchangeable in heaven. It was not difficult to appreciate Peter’s drift as the believers’ identity were wrapped around their present existence of self-preservation and safety, and understandably so, perhaps even forgetting that God was their final arbiter in matters of life (v.5). In their predicament, their normal human orientation fixated them on earthy concerns, with preoccupations far removed from the spiritual reality of the presence of Jesus among them, where the salvation of their souls matter more than life itself (vv.8-9). This empowering heavenly future orientation was one perspective of their living hope.
The second position involved the outworking of their activated ‘living hope,’ one that was grounded in Christ-like behavioural lifestyle values that were a testimony to non-believers. Peter touched on several points, but I shall only dwell briefly on community holiness in relation to love for the brethren (vv. 13-16; 4:1-11). The corporate pursuit of holy living cannot be detached from its expression of caring for one another (v.8). The emphasis for this other-centeredness was to keep the community together in the midst of suffering, a recognition that individual believers stand much less chance of surviving with their faith intact than those united in community. His advice included “since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer too;” “so as to live the rest of your lives chasing not your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God;” “the end of the world is coming soon, therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers;” “most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other;” “be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbours;” “and “don’t repay evil for evil, don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you.” It was the body of Christ in action in the resurrection power of ‘living hope’ that Peter was attempting to discern for the believers.