Dear "Strangers" of EBC,
I'm enjoying our study in 1 Peter and I want to encourage you to "get your feet wet" in the book if you haven't done so already. We will be working straight through the book throughout June, July and most of August. Peter writes to believers who are going through tough times because they are Christ-followers. He writes during the decade in the early church where the Apostle Paul was beheaded by Nero and where Peter himself will soon follow Paul in martyrdom when he is crucified upside down. They are powerfully aware that their lives are out of sync with the culture around them. As followers of Christ, they feel like aliens and strangers even though they live where they grew up! Throughout, Peter is teaching his people how to always be in a state of readiness in mind and body to set apart Christ as Lord in every area of life (see 1:13-15; 3:15; 4:1-2).
James Eldred got us started with a look at the identity of a Christ-follower laid out by Peter in 1:1-2. He reminded us of the truth that how we think about who we are will affect how we live (he did a nice job by the way, didn't he?). Do we understand that our relationship with God was secured by him through the work of the Holy Spirit based on the work of Christ? We are his chosen people! And as his chosen people, we have been called and enabled to come under his good rule and to serve his purposes for his glory, our blessing, and the blessing of our brothers, sisters and neighbors. This makes us his children. We are his heirs entitled by God's grace to all his riches in this life and, in full, in the life to come. It means that we are freed from enslavement to our sins and the old, toxic life we used to live. But it also means that we will no longer feel at home in a world still in rebellion against God. As his people, we will be strangers and aliens. Where his people gather together, it will be like an outpost of another kingdom in foreign territory. At the same time, we will live with a heart that yearns for those who are enslaved to sin to know the freedom we have found by God’s grace. And, we will labor to live out and explain the good news of what God offers them through Christ. Nevertheless, we expect opposition from the evil one and those committed to the rebellion against our God, the Creator and Deliverer of everyone. Is this how we think about ourselves? How would that affect us if we did?
Last week we looked at the soaring praise that marks the opening to the body of Peter's letter (1:3-12). Writing to people suffering persecution and hardship, Peter shows them and us how to get our bearings so that life's challenges and difficulties do not distract or defeat us from the wonder of God's blessings that we have been given in Christ. He teaches us that the practice of praise prepares the believer’s heart: 1) to trust in God’s good greatness without wavering and 2) to embrace his game plan fully no matter what the circumstances.
To get “praise prepared” let’s follow Peter’s practice of praise. Below, I have given you a guide for writing your own praise to God. Over the next weeks, see if you, or you and your family or friends can write your own expression of praise to God that you can pray (and/or sing) back to him. As you do, we want to give opportunities for you or someone on your behalf, to bring those to us as a body to help us get praise prepared as we worship and serve together. Here is a short one (short for me :) I wrote out of the passage I’m studying for this week’s sermon (1:13-25):
Holy Father, I praise you because you are free from any evil. There is nothing in you that is attracted to evil and nothing in you to move you to do evil. You always act consistent with your good greatness. You are always merciful. You are always gracious. You are always just. And you are always faithful. And I praise you that you have made me your child. Out of your mercy and grace you conspired with your Son to provide a way for me to be freed from the power and consequences of my sin. Even when I ignorantly followed my own evil desires in rebellion against you, you provided the costliest of sacrifices in the willing death of Jesus so that your justice would not be compromised as your mercy and grace were extended to me. Then you invited me to come to you! You graciously convinced me to abandon any trust in myself and throw myself on you as the only one worthy of total trust and the only one that can be counted on to bring me to life, both now and forever. You alone are my hope! And now, you empower and invite me to increasingly experience this new freedom from the old life that had enslaved me and to run with joy on this new path of life you have opened up for me while I wait for the full and complete experience of all that life means when Christ returns. You urgently desire that I increasingly live into and know the blessing of my new identity as your child, to be holy as you are holy. Who am I that you would do such a thing as this!? May I never forget who you are and who I am. May I never get over the immensity of your love. May I never doubt your good intentions and purposes. You alone are Holy. You alone are my Father. To you alone my I give glory in my thoughts, my affections, and my actions.
You give it a try. Do something simple and short or complex and long, but take this opportunity both to give God deserved praise and to encourage us all to see him better (and so get a better view of ourselves and each other!). I look forward to praising God together as God works through our body!
Writing Prayers of Praise & Thanks
Scriptural Names for Addressing God
The following scriptural names for God are provided to help us prepare to address God in prayer. Often the following names are combined in various ways, such as “Almighty, everlasting God” or “Holy God, our provider.” Start your prayer with the name that speaks to the circumstances for your prayer.
A Selection of Names of Address for God in the Scriptures:
Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13); Almighty and loving God (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 68:1-6); Almighty God, giver of strength (Gen. 17:1; Ex. 6:3-8; Ps. 68:4-14); Creator (Isa. 43:15; Rom. 1:25; 1 Pet. 4:19); Everlasting God (Gen. 21:33; Isa. 40:28); Faithful God (Deut. 7:9; 32:4; Ps. 31:5); Father of compassion and God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3); Father of mercies (2 Cor. 1:3); God, our healer (Ex. 15:26); God, our provider (Gen. 22:14); God, our peace, or God of peace (Judges 6:24; Heb. 13:20); God, our purifier (Ex. 31:13; Lev. 20:8); God, our righteousness (Jer. 23:6); God, our shepherd (Gen. 49:24; Ps. 23:1; 80:1); God and Father of Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:6); Gracious God (Jon. 4:2); Holy God (Lev. 19:2; Josh. 24:19; Isa. 5:16); Living God (Jer. 10:10; 2 Cor. 3:3; 6:16); Lord (Gen. 15:2; Ex. 3:14-15; Acts 3:22); Lord God (Ps. 68:32; Dan. 9:3); Lord of hosts (Josh. 5:14; 1 Sam. 1:3; Ps. 24:10); Most High God (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 9:2); Our Father (Isa. 64:8; Matt. 6:9; Eph. 1:2); Redeemer, covenant God (Ex. 3:14-15; Isa. 49:26); Refuge (Ps. 28:8; 46:1; 91:2); Rock (2 Sam. 23:3; Hab. 1:12; 1 Cor.10:4); Triune God (derived from 2 Cor. 13:13 and other passages).
Actions and Attributes of God
The following lists cite actions and attributes for which we praise and thank God in prayer. We ground our petitions in God’s character by naming particular attributes and actions of God and praising God for them. The following actions or attributes can be included briefly in a form of address to God (such as “Almighty God, you have given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead us to Christ”) or in an extended prayer of thanksgiving. These lists merely offer suggestions on the many actions and attributes of God we can refer to in prayer.
Actions: Gracious God…
you created the world in beauty . . . you created us in your image and yet more wonderfully restored us in Christ . . . you are re-creating the world in Christ . . . you revealed yourself to us in Christ . . . you allow us to glimpse your glory in the face of Christ . . . you teach, comfort, and challenge us by your Word . . . you govern this world in power and love . . . you lead us faithfully . . . you led your people by fire and cloud . . . you prepared the way for the coming of your Son . . . you sent your Son to the world for its salvation . . . you led the Magi by a star to worship your Son . . . you anointed Jesus your Son with your Spirit at his baptism . . . you raised Jesus from the dead through the power of the Spirit . . . you send us out into the world to make disciples . . . you sent your Holy Spirit to point us to Christ . . . you send your Holy Spirit to empower the church . . . you hear our prayers in Jesus’ name . . . you promise always to be with us . . . you promise the coming of Christ’s kingdom . . . you alone can bring healing . . . you alone can bring unity out of dissension . . . you alone can conquer evil . . . . Others?
Attributes: Gracious God…,
we praise you as the one who is . . . abundant in truth, almighty, beautiful, eternal or everlasting, ever present, faithful, good, gracious, holy, incomprehensible, infinite, invisible, just, living, long-suffering, loving, perfect, wise, or…?
For extended expressions of praise, each attribute may be linked with a particular text, a story of God’s actions in history, or an experience of God’s blessing in your own life or in the lives of those you know and love (such as “Gracious Lord, we praise you as the one who was faithful to Abraham and Sarah, Boaz and Ruth, Joseph and Mary, and even to us . . .”).
Using the above names or addresses, and actions or attributes of God, write several expressions of praise or your own prayer of praise! Here are some of the many Biblical examples you could follow (1 Chron 16:8-36; Psa 100, 104, 118; 1 Peter 1:3-12; Eph 1:3-14; 2 Cor 1:3-7; Rev 4:8,11; 5:9-10).
The language one uses can reveal many details about that person. In a very broad sense, you would have a good chance of knowing someone is from France if they are speaking French, or have a French accent. That is more obvious. More specifically the usage of vocabulary, or certain dialect can give you clues about the background of a person.
I cannot tell you how many times I have had the discussion of “what do you call a carbonated beverage?” Or, “what do you call athletic footwear?” Obviously the answers are soda, and sneakers, definitely not pop and tennis shoes. When I am in New York, there is usually no dispute, but once I moved to Ohio, many arguments have issued due to the differences of vocabulary. Not only that, people could guess where I grew up by what I said, or even how I said certain words and phrases. If someone says the word water more like “wudder” I know they are probably from the Philadelphia area. When someone is taking about laundry and calls it a “warsher” and dryer, I know they are from the mid-west. The list goes on and on, but the important thing in all of this is our language tells others details about us.
The Language of Peter
In 1 Peter 1:3, Peter begins the body of his letter with a praise “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." He has so much to say, but his first thought in writing this letter is expressing praise to God. Most of the time I would read that verse and take it for granted. It struck me this time around though becuase Peter’s use of blessing for his opening line tells us the sort of man Peter is. A greeting like this is common also for Paul (2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3). These men have great faith in the Lord, and are not in this moment praising God in order to teach something, but just instinctively are people who are always naturally worshiping God.
The question I ask myself is praising the Lord the first thing out of my mouth instinctively? Why am I not a man who the second I open my lips, praises pour out towards God? I tell myself, wouldn’t that be a little strange? Would people think I was crazy for always praising God? Maybe you tell yourself the same excuses. However, maybe we need more "crazy" people in this world
Worthy of Praise
Peter’s praise isn’t in a vacuum. Peter shows that there are an abundance of reasons to praise God, all centered around the reality that “because of His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3b). This living hope is fundamental to the rest of Peter’s argument in his letter. In the same way, this hope is fundamental to our existence as believers on this earth. Once we see how Peter describes this hope we all are given, then I think we will all agree on the praise that constantly should be on our tongues.
1. A Hope that is Imperishable. (vv. 3-5)
This is not a dead hope, grounded in some unsure reality. No, this is a living hope, that is completely tied to the living Christ, who rose from the dead. Peter in v. 4 describes our hope as imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Do we realize that every material possession on this earth eventually will pass away? There is someway to destroy everything that surrounds us. Charles Spurgeon is quoted “Even solid granite will rot and crumble. It is a paradox the substance of things seen is devoid of substance. Empires, dynasties, and thrones have tottered by internal corruption. The inheritance of the saints of God has nothing within it that can make it perish.”
2. A Hope that Rejoices in the Midst of Trials (vv. 6-9)
Yes, we are given a living hope, that is imperishable that intertwines us with Christ, but that does not mean we will live a life free of trials and grief. Remember, Peter opens his book acknowledging that his audience is full of people who are experiencing persecution. Peter does not see persecution and trials as the absence of God, but sees God’s plan through the trials placed before us.
In fact, Peter calls us to rejoice in the face of persecutions, because “even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith - more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire - may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Christ Jesus. (vv.6-8). The trials we face refine our faith. A diamond, before it is cut is not all that beautiful. However, once that diamond is refined, it becomes magnificent. The trials that we go through strengthen our faith and hope in Christ. We can rejoice, for sure in the good times, but also in the bad, because “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:9).
3. A Hope that is Altogether Marvelous (vv. 10-12)
This hope is thousands of years in the making. Peter clues us in that all the Old Testament prophecies about the Son of God’s suffering and glorification was for us. The prophets, somehow by the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, knew that they would never see the fruition of their prophesies, but it was for our benefit. Peter even mentions that angels wish to know more about this hope that we have been given. The gospel of Christ is not for angels, but for mankind. Angels would have no need to pay attention to it, yet they are captivated by it. This living hope is a marvelous one, that even the angels seek to learn more about. How lucky are we that the hope that we get to experience here on earth has been a story built up for thousands of years, that evenly heavenly beings are amazed by. How can we not be also?
Let Praise be on our Lips
Christian, this is the hope that we have as a reality to us, every hour of every day. A hope that is imperishable and marvelous, and is not contingent on the trials going on around us. In fact, those trials refine our faith in the hope of Christ. The more we understand about the gospel that is in us, the more we will naturally praise God in our everyday conversations. Let our language always be saturated with blessing of God the Father. If we are people who always have praises on our lips, the people around us will notice. Some will turn away from us because of it, but some will be drawn near to Christ, wondering what is this hope that we so often speak about.
Who are the recipients of this letter?
I still consider myself a New Yorker. I live in Ohio, I have Ohio plates for my car, an Ohio license; on paper, all signs indicate that I am a citizen of Ohio. However, internally I probably will always see myself as a New Yorker no matter where I live. If you were to truly get to know me, you would soon see my affinity for New York. On the outside, I look like any other citizen of Ohio, but those who are close to me associate me with New York, before Ohio.
The audience of 1 Peter also lives in one place, yet would say their home is somewhere else, characterized as exiles. However, they may not be the type of exiles we think of. To truly know what Peter is writing about in this letter, we have to know his intended audience.
“1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV).”
What kind of exiles?
These believers are characterized as exiles. Anyone person with a basic knowledge of church history is familiar with the severe persecutions that Christians face under the emperor of Rome, Nero in 54 AD - 68 AD. Due to this persecution, many Jewish-Christians were forced out of their homes and scattered into the surrounding regions
However, this is not Peter’s meaning when referring to this audience as exiles. These are not Jews that are away from Palestine, but Christians away from Heaven. In a historical context, the persecutions of believers that forced believers out of Rome happened in 64 AD. Peter’s writing here happened in 62, possible 63 AD. We know Peter’s readers lived like Gentiles (1 Peter 4:3–4). Those verses are not describing Jewish life in a synagogue. It appears Peter is speaking to Christians exiled from heaven, and not Jews exiled from Palestine. Peter is not writing of a literal exile, but the reality that all believers are stuck on an earth which is not their home.
Christians away from Heaven
This is not a new concept in the New Testament (Phil. 3:20; Hebrews 11:13; 13:14). This idea that Christians are exiles, not because we are outside any place on earth, but because we are outside our true home, Heaven.
We too are exiles away from our home. Although Peter may have a specific audience in mind in his writing, in a broader sense, we are also the audience Peter has in mind when writing to Christians away from their homes. Because of that, we see some powerful descriptors of Heavenly exiles in verse 2 that also applies to us.
“God’s elect, exiles… who have been chosen… through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.” (parts of vv. 1-2)
We are exiles, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. Predestination is such a contentious doctrine that I do not have the space or time to write about in this short blog post. Regardless of where you stand theologically on predestination, Peter is clearly stating that it is by God, we are chosen. Because we are chosen by God, we are exiles.
We are chosen exiles through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. This is why we are exiles. Outwardly we look like we belong to earth that we currently live on. However it is an inward transformation that is not done by us, but by the Spirit. It is through this work of the Spirit that we are set apart.
We are chosen exiles for obedience and for sprinkling of his blood. The fact that we are chosen for obedience makes sense. The call of those who fear the Lord is to love the Lord and to obey His commands. Part of our life as an exile is to be obedient to a different standard then the world around us. What does Peter mean that we are chosen exiles for the sprinkling of the blood of Christ? Peter doesn’t clarify his statement here, but writes it as it should be understood. Yet, this is not something I have ever heard preached on before.
In Exodus 24:7-8 the people were sprinkled with blood after they accepted the covenant made at Sinai. The sprinkling of the blood sealed the covenant. We too, who are chosen exiles have been brought into a new covenant with Christ and we are sealed into that covenant by the blood of Christ. If you look ahead to 1 Peter 1:18, you see that Christians were ransomed by the blood of Christ, away from futile ways. So Peter here is saying that the blood of Christ is both our seal for our initial conversion, as well as our continued sanctification towards obedience in Christ.
A letter for us
This book of 1 Peter applies to believers today. He is writing to all Christians who live through the tension that we are citizens of Heaven, who just haven’t moved in yet. We must wait for that day to come, and in that waiting, persecutions, lies, and trials will stay with us. As we will see more and more through our study through 1 Peter this summer, this letter written almost 2000 years ago is extremely relevant for us today.