Notes on 1 Peter 1: Joy in Suffering
Peter addresses his first epistle to the "elect exiles of the dispersion." Elect exiles, that's a nice label. In the following verses Peter will describe a time of glory to come, refer briefly to a time that has been, all so that he might place the present suffering of these exiles in an appropriate context.
That word, "exiles," is the key to understanding their present situation. God's children are exiles in this world. To be an exile is to be far from one's natural setting, to be among strangers. Perhaps the language of the natives is difficult for you, and the customs strange. To be and exile in the Mediterranean world of Peter's time was, we may suppose, to be required to endure suffering. Nevertheless, even this condition of exile is "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." And it has a purpose: it is "for the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood."
My daily Bible-reading plunked me down here this morning, in the first letter of Peter. Several commentaries describe the recipients of Peter's letters as exiles in the civil, not the spiritual or metaphorical sense. They were quite literally exiles from their homeland. But isn't it interesting that Peter says it is according to God's foreknowledge, which suggests that God allowed it to happen for his purpose--indeed, perhaps for the spreading of the Gospel to Asia Minor.
Notice this: as so often in the New Testament epistles, Christians are urged to endure suffering, and assured that it actually has a redemptive purpose in God's plan. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe the NT writers ever pray for an end to suffering, but instead they pray for patience, endurance, steadfastness under suffering. This is so very different from modern Christianity. We tend to confront every instance of suffering with earnest prayers for God to miraculously intervene and bring it all to an immediate end, so that the sufferer can then "walk in victory."
Hmmm. There seems to be a disconnect here somewhere. Doesn't Paul go so far as to say that we should even rejoice in our suffering, because it builds our character, and character leads to hope, and hope does not disappoint [Romans 5:3-5]? Elsewhere, we're told that patience under affliction (called longsuffering in the KJV) is a gift of the Spirit. What a beautiful old-fashioned word that is: longsuffering. How often do we pray for that now: may God give you the gift of longsuffering.
No, we pray instead that we should never need such a gift. Oh, but we shall, my friends. We shall. If we have not already, we shall. And if you endure it, if you persevere, it shall result in "praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" [1Peter 1:7]. Imagine that.