In Peter’s first letter it doesn’t take him long to get to the subject of joy. In verses 3-5 of the first chapter he lists the things that God in his mercy has given them — a new birth, a living hope, an inheritance, protection, and a salvation ready to be revealed! Who wouldn’t rejoice at that! In vs. 6 he notes that those to whom he is writing “greatly rejoice” in all that God has given and two verses later he writes that the joy they are experiencing is “so glorious that it cannot be described” (NJB). Yet, the truth is that even in a time of joy they may have to “endure many trials” (NLT). Peter wants them to know that there is joy in suffering is as well.
A good definition of happiness is that it is the result of something that “happens” — such as finding a parking place on a busy street. However, joy is that irresistible sense of euphoria that wells up from within regardless of circumstances. Note that while happiness is normally the reaction to something relatively unimportant, joy requires a context of genuine significance. You shed tears of joy, not tears of happiness, when your beautiful daughter marries a fine young man.
But how does this help explain Christian joy in the midst of difficulty? Consider for a moment how severe trials have a way of bringing us to the end of ourselves. Then when everything has gone wrong there is nowhere to turn but to God. And since God is a God of joy, as we draw close to him we can’t help but be become joyful. His joy incites joy in us. Misery has a way of driving the beleaguered saint into the presence of God and that is where a jubilant transformation takes place.
There it is! Joy, not in spite of “many trials” but the result of trials. They turn us to the One who anointed his Son with “the oil of joy” (Heb 1:9) and will, as Paul promises, “fill you with all joy” (Rom 15:13). Difficulty in the Christian life is not our enemy but a “friend” who drops in occasionally to encourage us in our spiritual growth.
Most of us like Peter. He’s the one who dared step out of the boat and start across the water to Jesus. He was the first to confess, “You are the Christ.” He was one of the three chosen to be with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Impulsive, Yes. Perhaps that’s why, in his first letter, it took him 53 words to complete the first major sentence! The gist of that long sentence is that new birth leads ultimately to a “salvation ready to be revealed at the end of time” (1 Peter 1:3-5, TEV).
But wait. Weren’t we saved when we accepted Christ by faith? What’s this about a salvation not yet revealed? Interestingly enough, scripture teaches that for the believer, salvation is not simply something that took place in the past (Rom 8:24), but is currently in progress (1 Corin 1:18) and, as Peter says, something yet to be experienced (1 Pet 1:5). Theologians call these three “salvations” justification, sanctification, and glorification.
The word salvation means “deliverance.” To be saved is to be set free from something. And what is it that we are being saved from? “Hell!” someone says. That’s true but what is the salvation we are experiencing right now? And the answer to that is that we are being saved from ourselves. While made in God’s image we became fatally flawed by sin. Right now we need to be set free from the power of that old nature. I can hear a resounding “Amen!” from Peter’s friend the apostle Paul, who confessed, “ I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” (Rom 7:19). Like the rest of us, Paul needed to be delivered from what he called “slavery to sin.”
Is it not wonderful beyond comprehension that not only has Christ saved us from the penalty of sin, but as we continue to walk in obedience he is saving us from the power of sin, and at heaven’s gate he will save us from the very presence of sin. The blood of Christ is the transforming power that saved us when we trusted him, is saving us now as we rely on him, and will save us when eternity arrives.
Peter addressed the first of his two letters to the eklektoi (“those whom God has chosen . . . and drawn to himself,” BDAG) who were living as refugees throughout the provinces. The Chosen — how good that sounds. Those selected from the human race and placed in a special relationship with the One who spoke our universe into existence (Ps 33:9 NLT). What a privilege! What a remarkable favor! Imagine, Chosen by God!
But wait, chosen for what? When we look at the Greek text we notice that the first two verses of chapter 1 form one sentence. We were chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God.” That was his basis for choosing. But be careful with that word “foreknowledge.” It is not so much God knowing something ahead of time (although that is certainly true from our standpoint) as it is a way of saying that since God is not trapped in what we call time, he lives in an eternal now. To speak of his “foreknowledge” is our way of describing sequence in a timeless universe.
But for what purpose did God choose us? That’s made clear as the verse continues — we were chosen “for obedience.” That’s what God had in mind when he chose us. It wasn’t to grant us some special favor, but to enable us to live out our lives in conformity with his nature. We were chosen to obey. Freedom allowed us to disobey but election placed us in a relationship where obedience is to be the primary characteristic of our new life in Christ.
Unfortunately, in many contexts obedience has a bad name. Did God choose us so we would have to give up all the fun things in life? No, that’s not the God who made himself known in Christ Jesus. Disobedience is a crafty form of Satan-assisted suicide, but obedience is the sure path to happiness. It is a map of this world’s minefield so we can safely make it through in time for the great Festival of the Lamb.
In Peter’s first letter to the believers scattered throughout several provinces in Asia Minor he refers to them as parepidemoi, "people who are living as foreigners" (NLT), "those temporarily residing abroad" (NET), "aliens, (NJB), "refugees" (Mounce). It’s certainly clear that, from Peter's point of view, those converts had a homeland somewhere else. At the moment they were on a temporary tour of duty in a strange land.
Have you ever lived abroad? It's different. Fun to be there but it’s not home. I've lived in Guatemala, Scotland, Germany, and Israel. Nice places all of them. Each has its own attractions. But I remember the day I rode my Harley back across the border into Texas. Wow! Five days before I had said goodbye to friends in Guatemala. Now I got off my bike and right there in broad daylight dropped to my knees and kissed the ground. I had been "temporarily residing abroad" and was finally home.
Peter calls us parepidemoi because that is exactly what we are here on earth — temporary residents waiting to go to our real home in heaven. The implications of this are life changing. Since we won’t be here very long (how long is a life-span compared to eternity?) we don’t invest in all those things that belong to this world. We don’t get caught up in meaningless cultural pursuits of this world because they have little or no significance for eternity. We invest our time and energy in issues that relate to the life that lies beyond.
Or do we? That is the question. And I ask it, not to create guilt, but to encourage us to maintain a perspective that is genuinely Biblical. One of the formative books in my spiritual experience was Harry Blamires’, The Christian Mind. He argues very convincingly that in the western world a secular view of reality has replaced the distinctively Christian mind-set of earlier days. There was a time when leading minds understood all of life from a Biblical perspective. And that is what Peter is saying when he calls Christian believers sojourners, aliens, refugees. And Paul is one with the fisherman when he encourages us (in the oft-quoted translation by J. B. Phillips), “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (Romans 12:2). Where do you want to live?
Is any one surprised about the way you live? Peter asks that question of the first century believers to whom he was writing. He has just described pagan conduct as “living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry” (4:3). Then he speaks of their surprise that Christians didn’t “join them in their reckless, wild living” (4:4). Not only that, they heaped abuse on them for their sterile lifestyle. Has anyone expressed surprise about the way you live?
I remember a speaker who asked a similar question: “If you were on trial for being a Christian in a dictatorial country, could they find enough evidence to convict you?” It struck me at the time that I was sufficiently like my secular friends that I could probably get by. And that’s the problem! We weren’t called to be like the nonbeliever but to be transformed into the image of Christ. We are sojourners and we ought to have the accent of heaven. The soldiers around the fire on the night Jesus was being examined by the high priest knew that Peter was a Galilean because he had the accent.
Some have solved the problem by dressing differently. The burka identifies the Muslim, the bonnet the Mennonite. Others have done it with a sort of religious rigidity that makes you want to suggest, “If you’re happy, let your face know it.” Certainly there is a better way. God doesn’t make people look different, he makes them different. And that difference is the result of seeing all of life from a heavenly point of view. It is an inward transformation that permanently alters who we are and how we act. How then should people view us? Well, in Peter‘s case they said something like, “And what kind of a religious wall flower are you? Come on, the pub’s still open and the bawdy house never closes.”
So, from one standpoint it doesn’t look too good to follow Christ. It makes us different. Gives others the chance to feel superior. So? That’s their problem. We have the joy of joining the apostle Paul in his deep desire to know Christ and to participate in his sufferings (Phil 3:10, cf. Rom 8:17). No one knows exactly what the transformation will mean on a personal basis but we are to embrace the future with enthusiasm because we are on the right side of history. Be different, I dare you.