Foreigner, you have the face of a Rich Man...
I remember arriving to Shanghai, China, not for a vacation or a visit, but to live as a foreigner.
Overnight our lives had turned upside down as my husband began a new position. Only having six weeks to pack, find a school for our youngest, help three older children prepare for college, say goodbye to family and friends, and undergo knee surgery, I arrived exhausted. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the hubbub, felt wild. Utterly foreign. Without speaking or reading Mandarin, I heard only babble and saw only babble. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was strange: the language, the money, the food, the grocery stores, the government, the gods, the culture, even the eating utensils were different!
This was foreign territory.
The obvious included this: I don’t look Chinese. Not one bit. I occasionally asked God, “You knew ahead of time that I would live in China, why didn’t You design me to fit in with a tiny frame, beautiful dark glossy hair and golden skin?” No matter where I went I could not hide my western looks or culture. Our driver liked to tell me:
“Madam, you have the face of a rich man [person].”
Yes, this was foreign territory, but the reality was this: I was the foreigner, the alien, the one who was strange.
No one needs to move to China to enter foreign territory. Whether cancer, job loss, death of a loved one, divorce, depression, COVID, or any other trial we bump up against send us into foreign territory with sights, sounds, and smells that feel wild. Strange. Foreign. Uncomfortable. Painful. And sometimes lonely.
This alienation appears to be the state of affairs for the recipients addressed in Peter’s letter.
In today's blog, I share my teaching notes for I Peter 1. Rather than zeroing in on the inductive study details and answering the who, what, where, when, how and why questions (which I often do in daily videos), I'll share a big picture overview of the text.
Specifically, I’d like us to understand this chapter based on our three rules for studying NT letters referenced a couple of weeks ago:
Remember the 1st century context.
Understand their problem.
Identify the main point.
Beginning in verse 1, Peter’s greeting is "textbook" for a letter of the 1st c. Hellenistic time period. If you’ve been a student of the Bible, the format of his letter should feel familiar. This letter is personal.
The sender is Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.
An apostle was recognized as one with authority to bear authentic testimony to the life and significance of Jesus Christ. Last week, we saw for ourselves that Peter knew and followed Jesus. He personally walked and talked and ate with Him. The authority of Peter (and all the other apostles) is distinct from everyone else, even the great early church leaders such as Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome. Ignatius (Ign. Rom. 4.3) once wrote in his letter to the Romans:
“I do not enjoin you as Peter and Paul did. They were Apostles; I am a convict.” (Lightfoot 1893)
"Convict!" Putting on our 1st century glasses: Peter is a big deal... a super star!
The recipients of Peter’s letter, are “the elect exiles” of the Dispersion.
Peter conveniently answers our question of “Where?" These Roman territories of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia are now modern day Turkey and Iraq. I recommend the Bible Map app. I use it frequently. For now, observing a basic map, it’s easy to see these believers are scattered throughout a vast area of Asia Minor.
Let's understand their 1st century problem(s):
First, these believers are exiles. Foreigners.
It's plausible, but not stated, that these believers are displaced at the hands of the Romans because of their faith in Christ. If so, they have been forced from their earthly inheritance leaving behind homes, property and family. In some parts of the world today, believers might be able to identify with this. For most of us, this is not our 21st problem.
However, we do know that the vast majority of Romans worship other gods. With respect to society and the politics of the day, these believers are foreigners. In this way, we can relate!
A second problem:1st century was pre-Bible!
Individuals did not have personal Bibles as we do. Rather, Peter’s circular letter would have slowly traveled from place to place to place where it would be read, discussed and perhaps even copied. Putting ourselves in their shoes, imagine the encouragement the believers receive from Peter’s letter!
Even today, whether by snail mail, email or text, don’t we value a word of encouragement? I do! Oftentimes, I feel these notes are like God hugs arriving at just the perfect time when I need a good word.
For these "exiles," this letter is from THE apostle Peter. Surely it’s received with eagerness and joy, as if a hug from God Himself! Imagine the excitement: “Wow! Peter himself remembers us! He knows our difficult circumstances!” How humbling. How encouraging.
As a side application: Aren’t we blessed in the 21st century to hold the Bible? May we continue to receive God's letter (the Bible) with eagerness and joy. I pray He will give you plenty of hugs as you engage with Him through His Word!
Back to understanding their problem: These believers are also grieved by various trials.
v. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Can't we all relate to trials?
On a daily video, I shared that one night this summer, I sunk into the tub weeping and weary from various trials. (It was a hard summer.) Waving a white flag of surrender, I cried out to God, “No more trials!” While studying this very passage the next morning, a light bulb clicked on! (I literally laughed out loud with God!)
Various trials mean a variety of tests and examinations, diversified. The testing of our faith is not like getting a driver’s license where you pass two tests and you’re done. Rather our faith requires a portfolio of trials! Why? To prove that it’s genuine. The real deal. The artist’s portfolio proves beauty and skill. An investor’s portfolio displays value and wealth. The Christian’s portfolio includes trials; these trials verify the quality of faith. How beautiful is your faith? How rich is your faith? Consider the refining work of fiery trials.
Personally, I tend to focus or get distracted by trials. In this letter, does Peter focus on the trials? Not at all! He doesn’t even specify what the trials are!
Peter’s focus is on FAITH.
His main point is to strengthen and encourage the faith of these believers, to turn their eyes, their focus, their attention to God’s living hope.
To boost their faith, Peter reminds them of the good news of Jesus Christ and all that God has done.
God chose them, not simply with his knowledge, but according to his foreknowledge (Greek: prognosis, v. 2). Don’t we appreciate when a doctor provides a good prognosis for our future health? According to Peter, God gives believers a good prognosis for the future. He made this prognosis even before the foundation of the world! God’s initiative, His plan, forms the ultimate foundation for the hope that Peter offers. God is the Hero of this letter.
In the midst of trials, Peter knows believers need Christ as their focal point. Peter himself learned this lesson the hard-knock way. Remember? When Peter's focus was on Jesus, he walked on water. When his focus diverted to the wind? He sunk. And sunk fast!
Knowing this, Peter exhorts his hearers:
v.13 “Prepare your minds! Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Hope expects. Hope looks forward. To what? The future revelation- the pulling back the curtain to see the reality of Jesus Christ! Living hope is not based on things that are futile. Peter says our hope, our belief, our faith are based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. From the dead!
A Christian’s faith “portfolio” includes trials, but what else? Praise and obedience.
Notice Peter's doxology beginning in verse 3:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (I Peter1:3-6)
Doxology comes from dóxa- ‘praise, honor, glory’ and logos- ‘utterance.’ A doxology briefly expresses praise to God. The basic blessing formula typically begins with “Blessed be the Lord” or “Blessed be the God and Father" (sometimes “Worthy is the Lamb” or “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty"). It’s always followed by a statement of God’s attributes and His faithful activities in the lives of His people.
Peter models praise to God even in the midst of trials.
After living in China for two or three months, God led me to a small prayer group for moms of adult children. Each woman was a foreigner. Having left behind home and adult children, each knew the heartbreak of split families. Prayer was the one and only thing we could do for our children.
The first time I joined this group, I could only weep. It’s how I imagine the recipients of Peter’s letter feeling. These women understood my heart and spoke my language of Jesus Christ just as Peter understood the situation of the "elect exiles" and reminded them of Living Hope. I lack words to describe the gift these women were to me.
Guess how we spent the bulk of our prayer time? Praising God.
Now is God in anyway transformed by our praise? No. God remains exactly the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The reality is that the simple act of praising God and remembering His power transforms my heart, my attitude, my faith.
Want to actively grow in faith?
Practice praise. An easy way to begin is with ABC prayer. Long before cell phones and videos, we played games in the car. One was the ABC game… scanning for words on signs beginning with each letter of the alphabet. In the same way, we can proclaim the ABC’s of God’s attributes.
For example: I praise You, God, You are Almighty, You are Blessed and You Bless, Creator…
Praise can be done while doing laundry, washing dishes or driving to work. It’s good for the heart. It's good for attitudes. It's good for faith.
Faith is initiated by God, proven by trials, spoken in praise, and last of all, Peter says “purified by obedience.” (v. 22)
The Greek root of purify relates to holiness and the Holy One. Obedience has a make-one-holy kind of effect.
v. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Obedience equates to action.
Currently dear one in my life walks through a very difficult and fiery trial, he continues to say, "I just want to do the right next thing." That’s obedience. To think the right next thing. Speak the right next thing. Do the right next thing.
To do obedience, Peter commands believers to prepare your minds for action (v. 13). (Think the right next thing!) Literally, he's saying "Lift up the robes of your mind, gird them around your waist and prepare to move forward in obedience."
Then it's lights, camera, ACTION! Speak and do the right next thing. When Peter says, "Love one another with an earnest love, he means, “You MUST love one another eagerly, fervently, actively." What does it look like to eagerly love those around me today? My husband, my children, my parents, my roommates, my neighbors…
Obedience remembers that our faith came at an extraordinary cost:
v. 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ…
In essence, Peter says: “Believer, you are ransomed by Christ’s precious life blood. You may be a foreigner in this world, but you now have the face of Jesus Christ with a seat at His table. Conduct yourself as if you belong at God's table.”
As a friend says, “When we know who we are, we know what to do.”
No matter what side of the sea we live on. No matter the foreign territory, circumstance or trial we find ourselves in, Peter describes believers with the face of a Rich Man, the living hope of Jesus Christ. Follow Him. Do what He would do.
Pray: That's our prayer, Jesus. Thank You for Living Hope! As foreigners in this world, may we follow You. May our faith be proven through momentary trials, praise and obedience. Oh! To live to bring you glory!
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(The Zoom teaching version of this blog is available on You Tube.)