Online Media: Help for the Painful Trial: Studies in I Peter
Excerpt from "First Things" Vol. LXIV No. 19, May 7, 2014
Help for the Painful Trial
Studies in I Peter
“The Church of Christ has been from the beginning so constituted,
So Calvin comments on a passage in the opening chapter of I Peter.
The contours of the Christian life are cruciform – cross-shaped. It is what Jesus warned, saying that if anyone thinks of following him, a cross and death face him at every turn (Matthew 16:24). All of which runs counter to many modern interpretations of Christianity suggesting that the gospel offers “the best life now” or some such mantra.
Peter writes at the cusp of the first-century Neronian persecutions (late 60’s). He warns his readers not to be taken by surprise when trouble comes. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Arm yourselves for battle knowing that “This is the way the Master went, shall not the servant tread it still?”
Informed conservative observers of contemporary American culture often sound alarmist when describing the “post-Christian” nature of our society. Few would deny the decline, but to militant atheists, America still looks Christian. To those of us on the theologically conservative side, things look very different indeed. Insistence upon biblical norms on homosexuality, abortion or women and the eldership (to name just three) quickly draw fire, let alone the commitment to the gospel of Christ that alone saves sinners. The church is likely to face greater opposition in the years ahead than has been the case since this country’s birth. And this is where I Peter is timely. Written at a time when Christians were facing persecution and death, these five chapters bring hope, comfort and challenge in equal proportion.
This summer, on Wednesday evenings, we will examine, together, Peter’s first letter. Its aim is to enable Christians to grow and be strong in the face of all kinds of difficulties. In the words of the seventeenth century commentator, Robert Leighton (one time Archbishop of Glasgow and a man of great irenic temperament):
“This excellent epistle…is a brief, and yet clear summary both of the consolations and instructions needful for the encouragement and direction of a Christian in his journey to Heaven.”
In a word, I Peter is designed to help us GROW. Peter is writing to Christians who would be burned alive and thrown to lions in the Coliseum for sport. The faith of first-century Christians was neither silent nor tarnished by complaints. The record of their martyrdom reveals the strength of their trust in the Living God. They shined for God through every adversity. Can we do the same? Peter’s letter tells us that by God’s grace, we must and we can!
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