Following normal Jewish practice, Peter opens his letter with an ascription of praise to God. After the statement of praise, Peter goes on to remind his readers of the wonderful blessings that they have received through Christ. The rest of the passage outlines four areas of mercy - four gifts of grace given to believers: i] a living hope in the resurrection of the dead; ii] an inheritance kept safe in heaven; iii] protection from forces, both seen and unseen, and iv] a faith daily tested, purified and proved by the trials of life.
v3. We have received a living hope in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus has broken the bonds of death and because he lives we live also. The body will weaken and die, but in the last day we will come alive and rise from the dead.
v4. We have received an inheritance kept for us in heaven. The people of Israel knew all about their inheritance from God. Their inheritance was a land flowing with milk and honey - the promise of a great nation and a great people. Yet, when this letter was written their inheritance lay in ruins. Unlike their inheritance which now stood denuded of trees, eroded, and under the subjection of a foreign power, the inheritance promised in Christ is incorruptible - it can "never perish." It is an inheritance which cannot be defiled, "spoiled", affected by sin, or "fade" away, as was the inheritance of old.
v5. We are kept safe from the forces that surge around us, both seen and unseen. The Lord keeps us safe until that wonderful day when all will be revealed. Of course, the Evil One will use all his guile and cunning to break our confidence in the Lord. Persecution, trouble, hardship, temptation, and the like, invade us daily, but in the power of the living God we can stand against his assaults.
v.6-9. At the present moment, our faith is being put to the test, purified and proved by the trials we face. Persecution, trouble and the inherent difficulties that are ours in our walk along the narrow way, prove our faith. As gold is tried and purified by fire, so our faith is tried and purified by the difficulties we face when we strive to live for Christ in a world falling apart. This may seem troublesome now, but the present difficulties are nothing to compare with the glory that awaits us. As our faith is strengthened, so we are assured of the blessings of eternity.
How often do we forget to say thank you to our friends, and especially to God, for a kindness extended toward us? Such neglect is part of the human condition. Yet, note how often the epistles in the New Testament begin with a thank you to God. In our passage for study Peter thanks God for all his wonderful mercies:
Death is a terrible thing, it denies everything beautiful about the human spirit. It is so terrible that we have an aversion toward the ageing process; we fear it, deny it. The aged in our community are ignored, while youthful vitality is worshiped. So, death is hidden behind the piped music of a crematorium; the unspoken subject, denied, veiled from the eyes of children. Yes, death is a terrible thing, a horror. Yet, it need not be, for in Christ it has lost its sting.
Our possessions, health, relationships, etc. make a strong claim on our affections. It is very easy to come to see them as part of the blessings of discipleship - the blessings of God. Yet, although they are part of the bounty of God, they have little to do with eternal verities. In fact, often health, wealth and happiness is illusionary, it fades before our very eyes. Our inheritance is eternal, an inheritance that is "untouched by death, unstained by evil, unimpaired by time", Francis Beare.
One of the greatest theological failures in the church today is found in our limited understanding of the doctrine of perseverance. We are unsure of our eternal salvation - will we be kept safe until that wonderful day? We are inheritors of the teachings of Pelagius - salvation is a work of man. Yet, the truth is that Christ will keep us safe. "He will shield us by the power of God until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last day".
Affluence is a great physical blessing, but it is not at all helpful for our walk in the Lord. We are tempted to pad our lives for security and pleasure. In Peter's day, cross-bearing meant standing firm in the face of violent persecution. Many were tempted to compromise their faith and pour out a libation to the Emperor. We too are tempted to protect our affluent life-style. Yet, it is in the struggle of life where our faith is purified for service in eternity, and it is in that struggle where we catch a glimpse of the one whom we serve.
1. Peter's praise to God is prompted by what blessings?
2. Discuss the "living hope" we possess as believers.
3. What is "the inheritance that can never perish"?
4. In what sense is a believer "shielded by God's power" in their day to day life? For example, are we shielded from sickness, disease, family and work trouble, bad luck....?
5. What is the purpose behind refining our faith in the struggles of life? What does it actually mean to have our faith refined?