While it is easy to think that the Bible is old and outdated, the truth is that since God doesn’t change, and people don’t change, the Bible is timeless and therefore timely for everyone everywhere.
In Peter’s day, like our own, the average person’s commitment to their version of spirituality was very shallow and nowhere near the deep end of the pool. Their spiritual beliefs, like ours, were simply part of the cultural tradition to keep up social status and little more. Christians, however, challenged these assumptions with deep devotion to Jesus and were thought to be too serious about their Jesus. Some modern-day examples might help illuminate the spirt of why Peter wrote his letters.
One woman was raised in a family that celebrated Halloween as a major holiday, complete with her parents’ home being decorated up with witches, skeletons, spider webs, zombies, demons, and more. The entire family would gather at the home dressed up as witches, warlocks, and the like to hand out candy to the neighborhood children. They also set up a false graveyard and a small haunted house in which they showed fake murders and other things intended to frighten children. Upon her conversion, the woman (who was by this time a mother with her own young children) refused to dress up like a witch, dress her daughter up like a demon ghost, and participate with her extended family in their annual Halloween celebration. As a result, her family regularly criticized her, exerting pressure on her to coexist with the rest of the family by violating her Christian conscience.
A man who was baptized as an infant in a very dead church grew up as a non-Christian whose family virtually never entered church other than for weddings and funerals. Later in life, he met Jesus and grew quickly as a Bible-believing Christian. He married a godly woman and God blessed them with a healthy, beautiful baby boy. His non-Christian parents pressured him to have the baby baptized in the church they never attended as a sort of superstitious rite; they wrongly believed that by baptizing the baby in that building he would automatically go to heaven if he died as an infant. The man lovingly tried to explain to his parents that he would do no such thing because it was not his church and he did not share their beliefs. Eventually, the entire extended family formed something of an alliance against him, as each of them had had their own children baptized in the parents’ church even though none of them was living as a Christian. He lovingly and graciously held his ground but was in many ways ostracized by his entire family and his deeply hurt parents even threatened to cut him out of his inheritance for dishonoring them.
The threat that Peter responds to is one that we face in our own day – that Christians will fold under trial. Peter understood this well as he was a bit of an evanjellyfish with no spiritual vertebrae, until God repeatedly put some steel in his spine. As 2 Timothy 3:12 promises, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Sometimes persecution is life-threatening, or even life-taking. This degree of persecution broke out a few years after Peter penned his letters, when the madman Emperor Nero burned Christians alive as torches for his parties, threw them into the arena to be killed by gladiators and eaten by lions, and killed their pastors including Paul and Peter. In this way, Peter’s reference to “fiery trials” may in fact have been a very literal prophetic warning of impending persecution. Still, the kind of persecution faced by Christians is more frequently the kind that 1 and 2 Peter address.
In a word, the Christians were marginalized as weirdos. They were weirdos who loved Jesus so much that they lived their lives and viewed their faith in a way that made them holy, or different, than other people. What God calls holy the world calls weird. What God calls good the world calls odd. Because they would not get drunk, sleep around, or practice other religions and spiritualities—or even endorse such things by their approval—they were viewed by everyone else as basically just plain weird, odd, and way too serious Jesus Freaks.
Subsequently, the Christians suffered shame, family rejection, discrimination, mockery, half-truths, lies, vicious rumors, slander, harassment, abuse, economic persecution, rejection, and mob violence on occasion, although such persecution was likely not yet state-sponsored. Basically, Christians stepped out to live with, for, like, and to Jesus. In response, the world pushed back and tried to get them to go back in the closet with a private faith that did not affect their external life or allow them to make any cultural changes. Thus, and this point is vital to a correct understanding of Peter’s letters, they were suffering not because of their sin but rather because of their faithful devotion to Jesus. One lesson we learn from Jesus is that not everyone who gets in trouble did something bad. This is why Peter commends Christians for their “trials”, “tested by fire”, still not giving in to culture but living as “sojourners and exiles” despite ongoing “sorrow” and “suffering”, also being “beaten”, suffering “harm”, enduring “slander” and “revile”, in a “fiery trial” that included being “insulted” resulting in people struggling with very real “anxieties”.
To download the free e-book ODD LIFE: Good God which is a study in 1 Peter for individuals, groups, and families from Pastor Mark click HERE. To listen to Pastor Mark’s 9 sermons on 1 Peter preached in the summer of 2020, click HERE. These and other resources are made possible by our ministry partners who support Real Faith as a Bible teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll Ministries to whom we say THANK YOU!