First Peter is intended to multiply grace and peace in the lives of God’s chosen people, as we live in a world that is no longer our home. This letter is designed by God to strengthen those in Christ to live in this sin-saturated world. We will begin by examining the first verse of this letter as Peter, right from his first words, begins to grid us with strength for our time in this world. Let’s begin by reading this rich introduction.
1 Peter 1:1-2
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
A Word From God:
Experience is enough to tells us that anxieties, trouble, trials, and difficulties of every kind are never far from us. Christians are not immune to suffering. In fact we are told that both persecution and trials in our lives should not surprise us (1 Peter 4:12; 1 John 3:13; 2 Timothy 3:12; Romans 8:18-26). Suffering in this present time is to be expected by those in Christ by faith.
But as you think about what will strengthen you, I wonder what comes to your mind. As you think about what will equip you for life and godliness I wonder what comes to mind? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God would tell us?
He has. The Scriptures are where we hear from God!
Peter begins this letter identifying himself as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” This rich letter is not merely the opinion or advice of some godly man. This letter bears the weight of apostolic authority in our lives. What we have here is not good advice; it is the Word from God written by an authoritative spokesmen of Christ who was carried along by the Holy Spirit and who has written to God’s chosen people living here as strangers in this world.
And so what we will find here is, in fact, what God knows we need. This is the Word that will strengthen the church. This Word is the pure spiritual milk, by which we will grow up into salvation. Have you tasted that the Lord is good so that you long for this pour spiritual milk?
The Original Recipients
As we come to this letter earnestly desiring to understand this Word that we might grow there by, the first thing we must do is to understand these words in their original context. And so, one of the important things we want to know is who the original recipients would have been. Who was Peter writing to?
Well, he says in verse 1, “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia …” We discover from this introduction that the original recipients were people living throughout what is modern day Turkey. Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia form what was perhaps the order in which this letter was distributed to the Christians in that area.
But what comes out later in this letter is that Peter is writing to Christians out of the nations, that is Gentile Christians. This comes out in a number of ways as Peter writes.
Take, for example, 1 Peter 4:3,
For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles (the nations) want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.
Here we are given a clue about who the original recipients may have been. Peter implies that in times past these folks did what the nations did, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. These are people who once walked shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand with the peoples of the nations. But now, the nations are surprised that these people no longer join the in this flood of foolish wickedness. The most natural way to understand this, I think, is to understand these Christians as coming out of the nations, that is, as Gentile believers.
The reality is that Peter speaks of these people, not in terms of any ethnic identity, but rather as Christians (see 4:16). As we will see throughout this letter, Peter appeals to these people, not on the basis of a physical and ethnic identity, but rather on the basis of the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Peter says that these people “…like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). Whether or not this group of Christians is purely from the nations, or includes both Jews and Gentiles, Peter speaks to them as Christians.
I spend time on this, because of what we are about to examine in this introduction. We are about to unpack Peter’s words, which contain a depth and a glory about how God regards us that I don’t want to miss. Peter is writing to people like you and me – people from the nations, people who at one time ran hand in hand with this world, alienated for God in spiritual death with the rest of mankind. But now, on the basis of the blood of the Lamb who is without blemish or spot, we have been ransomed and welcomed.
You Need To Know Who You Are
I’d like you to take notice of the fact that as Peter greets these Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia he begins by highlighting two things about them. Who are these people who have placed their faith in Christ? He writes, “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion …”
Some translations, like the NASB, KJV, and NKJV, don’t have the word elect or chosen here at the beginning of verse one. They have only the word exiles here. They have decided to include the word elect or chosen down at the end of verse one or at the beginning of verse two. The translators have done this on purpose because verse two is where Peter unpacks and explains this election – and we will examine that important connection next time.
But you should know that the very first word that Peter pens after identifying himself and the weight of authority this letter carries – the first word on the page, is “to the elect.” That’s one word in Greek.
Peter is concerned to make sure we know who we are – we who are from the nations. And the first word that comes to his mind is “elect.” He is writing to God’s chosen ones. If you are a Christian you have been selected, chosen, elected by God Almighty. God wants you and I to hear this. Christian, you are God’s special chosen possession.
Chosen Out Of The Nations
If you are at all familiar with the Old Testament this may sound strange in your ears. Who are God’s chosen people? The Old Testament speaks very often of Israel as God’s chosen, elect people. Listen, for example, to Exodus 19:5-6
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.
And again, Deuteronomy 7:6-8 as Moses addresses Israel before they have entered the promised land,
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
So what does Peter mean by calling Gentile Christians chosen ones? Let me make sure we hear Peter clearly. With the first word, he calls us elect and later he will say, in 1 Peter 2:9-10,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
It never ceases to thrill me how the New Testament speaks about the full inclusion of the nations – once far off, once alienated from God, now included in His chosen people. Peter wants us to know who we are. We are God’s elect and precious people – yes, even we, Gentile believers.
Listen to the scene that John saw in heaven recorded for us in Revelation 5:8-10,
And he [ That is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, who has conquered – He, who is also the Lamb slain -He!] went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty- four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth
The new song in heaven will forever be worthy is the Lamb who was slain! But what did His death accomplish? What did Christ do by His death? “…by your blood you ransomed people for God from [out of] every tribe and language and people and nation and have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.” Christ came to ransom people from the nations.
This is what Peter is eager for his original readers to know and this is what God is eager for us to know: we – who are from the nations, who were once carried along in the rushing currents of sin toward absolute destruction – we have been chosen out of the nations, elected by God, ransomed by the blood of Christ, and made His precious possession, a kingdom, a new nation, priests with access to our God, and those who will reign on the earth.
The first thing Peter wants you to know is that Christians, out of every nation, are God’s elect, and precious people.
Strangers In The World
But Peter adds to this. He says, “To those who are chosen exiles.” This word exiles might also be translated strangers, aliens, pilgrims or sojourners. Peter wants us to think about ourselves accurately. If you are in Christ, you are a person who is no longer at home in this world. You are pilgrim, a stranger here, in a foreign land for a short time. We have been chosen by God out of – taken from – the masses of sinful humanity. We who once walked hand in hand with sinners, as sinners, joining them, with them, as one of them, have been made a new people who no longer belong to this sin saturated world. We are strangers here. We are foreigners.
So let’s make sure we see the two side of this coin. Christians are chosen by God, but that means that we are exiles on this earth. We are no longer alienated from God, but that necessarily means that we are alienated from the nations out of which we have come.
Chosen To Be Strangers
This language of chosen exiles should cause us to pause. Peter wrote to those living among the nations with the flood of sin all around them and so he gives them these two categories in order to gird them with strength for daily living. Do we know ourselves as chosen exiles?
You are chosen! Do you revel in and live on and feed upon the fact that God has chosen you, made you His own treasured possession, welcomed you into His own people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation? Do you think with joy about God’s setting His redeeming love on you and ransoming your soul from the pit? We were hopeless, but God has set His favor upon us. Oh, think on this! Rejoice in this! You are meant to.
But do you also understand that those who have been ransomed and chosen have been taken from this world and made strangers in it? You are not of them anymore. You are on this globe, for a short time as a sojourner and an alien and an exile. This is not your home. You belong to quite a different country.
This means at least two things. First, those upon whom God has set His love and called out from the nations must no longer pursue what the nations pursue. The things the world loves, we do not love anymore. You are not one of them. You are a child of God and not a son of the devil anymore. You have been ransomed from sin and the deeds of darkness. God’s people do not swim with the current of the nations.
But it also means that we should expect that the world, with whom we once ran, will not understand us. They will not embrace us. They may very likely think evil about us, speak with evil intent toward us, and do evil to us.
Two Dangers: Fear And Love
Peter has written this wonderful letter to the churches scattered abroad so that grace and peace would be multiplied to us who live in a world flooded with sin and rebellion. Yes, he has written in order to strengthen us – so that grace and peace would be multiplied to us. But there are two dangers that Peter is addressing. As we live in this world as elect exiles, Christians are faced with two dangers: fear of the world and love of the world.
First Peter teaches us how to live in a hostile world with courage. I don’t know how much time you spend following current events, the news or the political goings on in this country, but unless God decides to intervene with a gloriously gracious and widespread revival in this nation, we are looking at more and more hostility, restriction, and persecution because we are Christians.
I believer there are many Christians in America who are shocked and filled with fear at the ever rising flood of sin all around us and the hostility that is growing stronger by the week. There is a real danger that Christians will forget this opposition is not a strange thing and that even though the world is against us, God is not against us.
Oh we must not be shaken from our faith because of sufferings. Trials and persecution ought not to surprise us or cause us to doubt that God is for us. Christians are elect, chosen, precious, and exiles, strangers, and aliens in this world. This letter is designed to help us prepare for persecution.
Another reason that I decided we should study this letter is that as the nations, and specifically the one we living in, rage against God and are running hard after sin and fleshly indulgence there is a second danger that those who call themselves Christians will participate with them in the passions of the flesh. The danger is that we will simply give in and give up and let the currents of the world sweep us away into the passions of our former ignorance.
Peter is arming us to swim against the currents of this world. This is not your home – don’t join them in throwing your life away. Christians are sons of God and we swim hard toward holiness even as the world jeers and mocks and threatens and tempts. The danger is that we would crave the approval and pleasures of the world more than the approval and pleasures of God. As James wrote,
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).
Peter has written this letter to remind us that we are chosen-strangers, elect-exiles in this world. The lives we live in this hostile world must be lived with these truths in our minds. We are chosen, precious, and holy and this is not our home. We are here for a few more breathes as sojourners and then we will be home forever – let us conduct ourselves in light of these things.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober- minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ 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 (1 Peter 1:13-16).
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:10-11).