gratitude & hoopla: More Notes on 1 Peter 1: Hopeful Exiles

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

19.6.06

More Notes on 1 Peter 1: Hopeful Exiles

The first chapter of Peter’s first epistle is in itself a concise little masterpiece. Not unlike Paul’s opening chapter to the Ephesians, this one paints the believer in the midst of a vast timescape, an interlocking pattern of past, present and future.

Like Paul, Peter presents a worldview that sweeps all the way back to the time "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4; 1Pet 1:20), and forward to "the fullness of time" (Eph. 1:10; 1Pet 1:5). But the intermediate stage, that which we call the present, is primarily described by both authors as a time of hope (Eph 1:12; 1Pet 1:4).

The condition of the believer, according to Peter, is that of a hopeful (though for a time beleaguered) exile. He is guarded by the power of God through "various trials" (v.6), which are assumed to be the inevitable lot of the exile (not, it should be noted, a brief aberration attributable to his lack of faith). The one thing that separates the believer from the unbeliever in the midst of trials, then, is that he has an undying hope (v.4). Hope is the red badge of courage of the believer. Hope is his identifier, the living emblem of his faith.

In what then is this hope placed? In the eventual full revealing of salvation, when suffering and trial will at last end (v.5). When, in fact, the believer’s status as exile will be finally annulled, and he will receive an inheritance that will never, like mortal things, suffer decay or corruption.

All this would seem a rather wispy hope, the ultimate pie-in-the-sky, except that it is founded on a past event which was attested to by many witnesses–the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Peter’s words: "[God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (v.3). This past event, which the NT writers never feel pressed to defend (as if it were something no one could be expected to believe), provides the foundation for the Christian’s future hope. Furthermore, it was prophesied long ago by prophets who knew even then that it was to be a far future event (v.12).

So here we have the current situation: the believer is an exile, far from home, and yet he remains hopeful of a day when the full measure of blessing, which is nothing more than his inheritance (through faith), will one day be revealed. Though in the meantime he is "grieved by various trials," these will not last forever. In fact, even the trials and suffering will result in praise and glory to God. How can this be? Because in the end, when his salvation is fully revealed, that faith he held onto through all the fiery trials will be proven justifiable and right.

It is fashionable to emphasize the now aspect of the now/not yet Kingdom dichotomy, such as the gifts of the Spirit, which serve as confirmatory down-payments of the "inheritance" to come. But here Peter reminds us of that coin’s other face. Trials and suffering, grieving, are inevitable. To this extent, the kingdom has not yet come. But the wonder is that even these trials will result in praise and glory to God (v.7). Since this is the case, our whole attitude toward suffering is (or should be) transformed. We are able to rejoice in the midst of it (v.6). Amazing! How much rejoicing in trials have you done lately? In my case, the answer is none!

But here’s what Peter has to say. Since you have this hope for a certainty, prepare yourself for action (that is, for the purpose of facing your inevitable trials), placing your hope fully “on the grace that will be brought to you” when Christ returns (v.13). In the meantime, let your behavior be holy (v.15), conduct yourself with fear (v.17), knowing that you were ransomed by the blood of Jesus from futility of the flesh (v.18). Love one another sincerely (v.22), for the living word of God abides in you (v.23), and is vividly represented by the manner in which you live.

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