The Apostle Peter is addressing the persecuted church during the reign of Emperor Nero. Peter himself was experiencing his own trials, most likely suffering in a Roman jail only to be martyred a year or so later. Church tradition has Peter dying upside down on a cross several years after Rome burns… He can identify with the suffering of the church therefore, Peter writes to them as a chosen people for God’s glory. One of the challenges facing the believers how to maintain godliness in the face of such persecution. So, Peter writes to the church how to be submissive to abusive governmental authority, to bosses and submission in the home; live freely, be servant-hearted, respectful, loving, fear God and honour authority.
Within 1 Peter there are various words used to describe the suffering of the first century church in Asia Minor. 1 Peter 1:6 – grief, sorrow or sadness; 1 Peter 1:11 – resigned or surrendered to suffer; 1 Peter 2:19 – physical, mental or emotion pain; 1 Peter 2:21 – to suffer on behalf of someone else; 1 Peter 4:12 – literally means a fiery suffering. The levels of suffering and or persecution varied in intensity and in circumstance. Let’s remember that Peter’s desire is to bring hope and encouragement to the persecuted church.
Overcome and Blessed
Because of the fall of mankind into sin, pain and suffering are now common place in this world. The blessings of the Garden of Eden have been replaced by the pain of childbirth and hard labour in providing a living. Considering this, one of the greatest lessons someone can learn in this life is perseverance through adversity and suffering. (Handout)
1 Peter 3:8-9 Peter exhorts the ecclesia in Asia Minor to unity, sympathy, love, compassion and humility, understanding the struggles they are facing. He knows how easy is it to return evil with evil or insult for insult because of suffering. But Peter tells them there is an inheritance when one responds in the opposite spirit by quoting Psalm 34:12-16. From a Christian perspective, Peter says we are blessed now and eternally when we when we suffer for doing what is right.
I mentioned earlier that we are troubled by sin in this world. Peter gives us a challenging reality with regards to overcoming sin in life. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2 As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Peter is telling his readers that suffering in one of the ways to overcome sin. This may seem tough to ponder but this is true of Jesus’ life. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Heb 5:7–9). This Hebrews passage describes the mystery of the Son of Man learning obedience through suffering and fully identifying with humanity. Ultimately, Jesus overcame the power and guilt of sin on the cross as the Son of God – the pure and spot Lamb.
Peter goes onto the affirm the believers that they are no longer choosing a sinful lifestyle and that their unbelieving friends or family think it is strange (1 Peter 4:3-4).
Peter realizes that amid suffering resources can be limited. There are times when it feels like there is not enough love to go around, let alone all the practical means that come because of persecution; i.e. - they must take care of their widows and wounds. So, in 1 Peter 4:7-11 he reminds them that they are to be a godly people by being clear minded and showing self-control so that they can pray. He then exhorts them to love each other deeply because genuine love covers a multitude of sin. Love can make all the difference therefore be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless and do so cheerfully. Hospitality goes a long way during times of suffering and persecution.
Then Peter gives a great response to the limitations pressed upon the Body of Christ in tough times. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Pe 4:10–11). In other words, there are gifts and resources in believers that can help during times of suffering and persecution.
Lastly, I see Peter encouraging the believers to overcome Satan who is really behind all their sufferings. Chapter 5 highlights the importance of godly leadership as being pastoral, servant-hearted, not greedy, but being examples to the flock. It is noteworthy to highlight in light of our previous sermon on submission, that the young men (leaders) were to submit to their older leaders, humility being a key characteristic; Humility – the disposition of valuing or assessing oneself appropriately. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pe 5:6–7).
Amid all the suffering and persecution anxiety would be very high; the word picture for “cast all your anxiety” is this – to throw or hurl the problem away from you onto God. How encouraging for the believers to know that God cares… Humility and knowing God cares is a great place to begin overcoming Satan.
Throughout 1 Peter there is an underlying exhortation to overcome sin and being godly. Now Peter tells them to “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Pe 5:8–9). The believers are to overcome the adversary, accuser, the devil, their opponent, Satan himself. Why is this important for Peter’s scattered people to understand? It is because Satan or the devil is the source of evil not people; people can be saved but not Satan. The devil needs to be resisted and overcome. Nero was feeding Christians to the lions in Rome. The scattered believers would understand the importance of what Peter is saying. Christian hostility – resistance – towards the devil is essential, all the while standing firm in the faith. This is very similar to Paul’s exhortation in Eph 6:10-18.
You are an overcoming believer. This is one of the messages of Peter to the church of his day. There is nothing too difficult for God. He is able to provide blessings beyond what we can ask or imagine, even in the midst of difficulties and suffering. We experience God’s blessings when we persevere through the challenges of suffering and trial, in this life and eternally. We experience God’s blessings when we overcome sin; we are no longer under guilt, shame or the power of sin over our lives. We don’t have to give into sin but can by God’s grace – learn obedience as we suffer. Suffering often causes our limitations to surface. It is so good to remind ourselves that the Body of Christ is full of the resources we need to accomplish the plans and purposes of God. Lastly, Peter reminds us that the real enemy is Satan, not people, and he must be intentionally and forcefully resisted.
Peter ends his first letter with great encouragement – “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Pe 5:10–11).
We have all experienced times in our lives of suffering on various levels. During those circumstances, we experience hurt and pain, we make choices – some good and some bad. Sometimes we discover God’s hidden blessings along the way. There are lessons to be learned just as Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered.
· Let’s take a moment and consider an area of God’s blessing in our lives?
· What is an area of sin that God wants you to overcome?
· Take of moment and think about an aspect of your life that is inadequate? Who can help fill in this limitation?
· Where do you feel the attack of the enemy? Discern his strategy and then resist…
Let’s say this again to each other. You are an overcoming believer.