Who Are We?

Lessons from Peter on the Church

Where Are We?

What were your great-great-great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents doing 143 years ago? That year, Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church was planted in a rural, farming community. 

Long before the Bay Miwok Native Americans inhabited the golden hills surrounding Diablo Valley. Four Mexican land grants displaced these indigenous peoples, the history of this land, not unlike our broader history, a tearful and tragic one. The largest land grant belonged to Juana Sanchez de Pacheco, and she passed the land down to her two grandsons. One of the grandsons, Ygnacio, built the first roofed home in the valley around 1850.

Following the Mexican-American War, the first American settlers came, establishing a small settlement at today’s intersection of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and North Main Street. The first town settler was William Slusher, who built a home on the bank of Walnut Creek, known at the time as “Nuts Creek.” Then, in 1855, a hotel named “The Walnut Creek House” was built, followed by a blacksmith shop and a corner store. By 1862, a post office was established, and the town became known as Walnut Creek. In 1878 our church was planted as a mission church from Community Presbyterian Church, a church just down the wagon trail in Danville!

Walnut Creek began growing with the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad service in 1891. Today, we know that original branch line as the Iron Horse Trail. In 1951, the Broadway Shopping Center (now Broadway Plaza) opened as Contra Costa County’s first major retail center, and the population of Walnut Creek quadrupled in size.

While Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church changed locations a few times over the years, and at one point considered a move to a five-acre parcel near Geary, the congregation decidedly landed upon the strategic location we inhabit today, where we are still poised to minister to East Bay residents as they come and go, and settle and reside. To experience the centrality of our location firsthand, look out the windows in Room 303 and those in the sanctuary balcony. The decision to stay put in the heart of downtown Walnut Creek is all the more principled given the mass suburban exodus by most downtown churches during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

And so, our story involves having our roots planted in a small, rural town. Over the years, the suburban bustle replaced the corner store, post office. and hitching post. And today, the WC BART mass transit village, an archetype for BART platforms all over the Bay Area, has spawned thousands of apartments and condominiums, housing young millennials and scores of people from countries all over the world. Today, the vibe around our campus is an urban vibe--eclectic and artistic--while our surrounding area still hosts suburban neighborhoods with good schools and family-sized yards.

Together as a church, we linger over this geographical history because we cannot ask the “Who Are We?” question without also contextualizing it in the “Where Are We?” question of our surrounding culture.

Who Are We?

The disciples loved Jesus so much that they…

It is an interesting sentence to complete, isn’t it? What might you put after that ellipsis? I’d suggest: The disciples loved Jesus so much that they started churches! After taking personal and financial risks, leaving their stuff and past behind to follow Jesus, these disciples then planted churches to further multiply Christ’s disciples. These churches became the heartbeat of Christ’s work in cities and towns all over the world. Church is not something you endure, something you sit through, something you leverage for business contacts, or subject your kids to in order to gain a little moral grounding.

No, instead, the Church is God’s principal vehicle for bringing His Kingdom to Earth “as it is in Heaven!”

Who are we? We are the Church, and I could not imagine a greater identity and grander calling!

Whatever you currently feel about the church, whatever your history with the church, whether you are dialed in or checked out, passionate or passive, I invite you to join us as we explore 1 Peter, a letter written to several 1st-century churches, reminding them of the love, grace, and hope found in Jesus, and urging us toward a renewed sense of mission around these very things.

WHO Wrote This Letter?

"On two separate occasions, Peter received the call “Follow me.” It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to his disciple."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Peter sure did love Jesus. He bumbled his way there, perhaps making him the easiest of the twelve disciples with whom to relate. Peter was exceptionally gifted at speaking before he thought, of shooting before he aimed. Still, his childlike exuberance is endearing. He was the first one out of the boat to meet Jesus, and as a result, the only one to sink (Matthew 14). He was the only one to rise to Jesus’ defense when Jesus spoke of his death, actually rebuking him, and in turn, the only one Jesus called a satan (the Lord’s adversary) (Matthew 16). When Jesus felt the touch of the bleeding woman and asked who it was that touched him, it was Peter who brashly spoke up and reminded Jesus: “Hey Jesus, the crowds are huge, why would you ask such a silly question?” (Luke 8).

He accompanied Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration, and in a stupefied state, when Elijah and Moses appeared, remarked: “What should we do Jesus, build some tents?” To which, Luke had the chutzpah to write by way of parenthetical: “For Peter didn’t have a clue what he was saying” (Luke 9). Peter was the only one to ask Jesus how many times he should forgive other people, and thereby, perhaps the only one to do the mental math in assuming Jesus was speaking literally of 490 times rather than referring to Levitical principle (Matthew 18). Peter was one of the three who fell asleep on Jesus during his final hour of anguish, and probably because he snored the loudest, the one Jesus addressed with the question: “Why did you fall asleep?” (Matthew 26).

But it was also Peter who, from a humble posture, refused to let his Savior wash his feet, and, when Jesus corrected him, “Peter this is necessary for those who want to be a part of me,” then it was Peter who said, “Well then Jesus, please, clean me up from head to toe” (John 13).  It was Peter who dared be the first to speak up when Jesus asked the question that echoes through the ages: “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8). And, God bless him, he got it right! It was Peter who failed miserably three times in denying Christ three times, but upon recognizing his failure, he wept bitterly. Later, it was Peter who didn’t walk, but ran to the tomb, ahead of them all (John 20). Finally, it was Peter who was restored three times by Jesus for his three failings (John 21).

Peter was also the one who was specifically addressed by Jesus concerning his role as church builder (Matthew 16). And Peter would wear this mantle well, writing this inspiring letter to young churches scattered throughout the region; a letter on the beauty and glory of suffering for Jesus’ sake. Peter, as Eusebius and other historians would note, took his boldness in Christian witness all the way to his death, choosing to be crucified upside down to submit his glory to that of Christ’s.

In these recollections of Peter’s appearances in the four Gospels, we grasp sight of a man who loved his Savior with every fiber of his being. When he failed, his “fails” were epic, but when he repented and returned to his Jesus, he did it with vigor, and one could imagine Christ laughing heartily as He received him with open arms. 

Phillip Yancey, in his work, The Jesus I Never Knew, recounts Peter’s life in juxtaposition to Judas’ in this way: “I know of no more poignant contrast between two human destinies than that of Peter and Judas.  Both assumed leadership within the group of Jesus’ disciples. Both saw and heard wondrous things. Both went through the same dithery cycle of hope, fear, and disillusionment. As the stakes increased, both denied their Master. There, the similarity breaks off. Judas, remorseful but unrepentant, accepted the logical consequences of his deed, took his own life, and went down as the greatest traitor in history. He died unwilling to receive what Jesus had come to offer him. Peter, humiliated but still open to Jesus’ message of grace and forgiveness, went on to lead a revival in Jerusalem and did not stop until he had reached Rome.”

The grace of forgiveness fueled Peter’s pastoral ministry and kept his heart aflame for the people God called him to shepherd. Both of his letters (1 and 2 Peter) are full of pastoral tenderness. He wrote compassionately to those who were in affliction, he himself being an old man facing an unsure outcome. At the time these letters were written, after being nearly done with the conflicts and toils of this life, his gaze was set upon the glory to come, and his letter, often called, “The Letter of Living Hope,” was penned with that vision close at hand.

As we find ourselves the recipients of this letter so many years later, it is fitting to mention how Peter marveled in his writing at what the church could become. He readily entrusts the church to those who would follow after him, and he seems to be in awe of the love for Christ and one another they will possess. Dr. Ed Clowney says it well in his commentary on 1 Peter: “Peter marvels at the love of those who have never seen Christ (1:8); his message of the living hope in Christ has its background in his despair at the crucifixion, and his joy in fellowship with the risen Christ. His emphasis on humility has poignant meaning after the boasting that preceded his fall. The Lord had charged him to tend his flock, and he passes that admonition on to other under-shepherds.”

WHEN Was This Letter Written?

Having consulted a dozen commentators on 1 Peter, I am quite sure I could do no better than this comprehensive yet concise paragraph from Scot McKnight’s commentary on 1 Peter: “If Peter can be argued reasonably to be the author, then our letter was written prior to A.D. 64 or 65, when Peter was martyred at the hands of Nero. In light of the number of references to suffering and persecution in 1 Peter, we maintain that Peter wrote this letter near the outset of Nero’s persecution of the church—perhaps between 62 and 65. Indeed, Peter’s conciliatory attitude toward the state (2:13–17) and his optimism about Christian life in the context of an unbelieving society (2:11–3:12) suggest that Peter wrote this letter near the beginning of Nero’s persecutions and that it is an early strategy for coping with serious problems from the state. We even dare to suggest that if Peter had waited five more years to write this letter, it would have been rearranged considerably. (And Peter could not have written it!) Writing sometime in the early 60s, then, Peter, through his letter-carrier (or fellow author) Silas, encourages a series of small churches throughout northwestern Asia Minor by asserting their particular Christian identity (the family of God), by exhorting them to love one another, and by explaining to them the apparent inevitable tension that being a Christian will generate in a society that does not look tolerably on religious innovations.”

This moment in history, the 60s (A.D.), precedes official persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire by a few years, but by this occasion, local harassment was already common and persecution was scattered though steady. Dr. Clowney describes the letter as “…[written in] a time in which Christians are warned to prepare for greater suffering for Christ’s sake in the future.” That future was imminent.

For Peter, death at the hands of Nero, the Roman Emperor, was inevitable. He writes from “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13), no doubt a moniker for the great city of Rome (see Revelation 16:19; 17:5; 18:2). Because Babylon was the great city of world empire for the Hebrew prophets and also the city of exile where Israel lived as resident aliens, the comparison to Rome fits—Peter was displaced and the early Christians scattered throughout the Empire were dislocated.

TO WHOM Was This Letter Written?

Those for whom Peter intended this letter were “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,” (1 Peter 1:1) regions that comprised the Roman provinces of northwestern Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Scot McKnight suggests “…that the order of the provinces reflects the order in which the letter would have traveled and been read (beginning in the northern region, traveling southerly to Galatia and Cappadocia, and then returning back to Bithynia through the province of Asia).” Given the system of Roman roads and Romans Cities as sociological center points of various regions, “…we can be certain that the letter was taken to the major cities in these provinces, cities that were thriving and growing according to the pulses of the Roman Empire.” Panning outward from the cities, the geographical areas addressed include a “fantastic conglomeration of territories—coastal regions, mountain ranges, plateaux, lakes and river systems” (Clowney). 

Even more impressive is the diversity of the inhabitants in these regions. From its early roots, Christianity has spread cross-culturally and multi-ethnically—the Gospel of Jesus Christ both celebrates (when the Kingdom of God is reflected) and challenges (when the Kingdom of God is deflected) all cultures impartially. It is no surprise then that the early recipients of Peter’s letter had “…different origins, ethnic roots, languages, customs, religions, and political histories. Galatia was so named after Gauls who had settled there; Gallic was still spoken there in the fourth century. Luke refers to the language of Lycaonia spoken by the people of Lystra. There was a substantial Jewish population in Asia Minor. Jews from Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost and heard Peter’s sermon. Converts returning to those provinces may well have planted the gospel there” (Clowney).

These early recipients of Peter’s letters, comprising a beautiful tapestry woven of ethnic and cultural diversity, were mostly non-Jews, “…Gentiles who had probably previously become attached to Judaism through local synagogues and other forms of Judaism. Thus, their former life was a life of living in ignorance (1:14), which was handed on to them by their fathers (1:18). That they were formerly ‘not [my] people’ (2:10) points in the same direction, as does their earlier pagan lifestyle (4:2–4). Yet it is likely that the road to Christianity for these Gentile pagans included a stop at the local synagogue, where they were instructed in the Torah and the ways of the Jewish people. This permits an easy reference to the Old Testament for Peter. It is also likely that some of the Christian converts were formerly Jewish in race and heritage” (Clowney).

Finally, two other terms give us further insight into the audience of Peter’s letters, and particularly, the nature of their social conditions: “‘Aliens and strangers in the world’ (2:11–12). While the letter reveals an audience that has some ‘free men’ (2:16) and ‘slaves’ (2:18–20), some wives without Christian husbands (3:1–6), and some Christian husbands and wives (3:7), the terms aliens and strangers may be the most revealing of all about the social location of the audience.”

It is important not to miss this. These terms, aliens and strangers, are as much about the social location of these early Christians as they are about their spiritual situation. Many crucial, contemporary applications to this letter would be gravely missed if we fail to recognize this.

Scot McKnight writes about this: “They were disenfranchised workers laboring in the cracks of a network that largely excluded them, but they had found the meaning to their existence in the Christian family…. These terms refer respectively to a social status, to ‘non-citizen residents in some place’ (that is, a person residing in a place without rights) and to ‘temporary residents’ in some place…. In the Roman Empire these terms were used for the group of resident aliens who occupied a special wrung on the social ladder—below citizens and above the slaves and foreigners. Legally, such aliens were restricted in regard to whom they could marry, the holding of land and succession of property, voting, and participation in certain associations and were subjected to higher taxes and severer forms of civil punishment. Set apart from their host society by their lack of local roots, their ethnic origin, language, culture, and political or religious loyalties, such strangers were commonly viewed as threats to established order and native well-being. Constant exposure to local fear and suspicion, ignorant slander, discrimination and manipulation was the regular lot of these social outsiders. The ‘homelessness’ of these people, in other words, led them to a ‘new home’: the church, the family of God, in which they found social acceptance and protection.”

Given these social conditions, implications for the church in today’s cultural moment will be discussed below.

WHY Was This Letter Written?

"The message of 1 Peter concerns how Christians are to live in a hostile environment, and live in such a way that they not only endure but also have a lasting impact for good on that environment."
Scot McKnight, 1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary)

To answer this question, why was it written, I will first turn to Peter’s own words in the last section of the letter: “I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it” (1 Peter 5:12).

Early letters like 1 Peter were intended to be encyclicals, meaning, they were passed along from congregation to congregation. The literacy rate in that day was quite low (around 10%) so these letters would be read aloud during worship services, serving as sermons. What is more, a few ancient historians suggest 1 Peter also became an important piece of catechetical instruction to accompany the Sacrament of Baptism, and also functioned as a liturgy for early Baptismal services.

WHAT Is The Letter All About?

Before we get into the three essential messages or themes of the letter, I would first like to provide the most concise yet comprehensive summary of 1 Peter I have found to date. I include this summary particularly for our parish small group leaders, in the hopes you will read it a few times in preparation for the facilitation of your group:

“Facing impending assaults on the gospel, Peter witnesses to the grace of God, the overwhelming reality of what God has done in Jesus Christ. The apostle knows that Jesus rose from the dead; he saw him ascend to heaven. He knows, too, why Jesus died, and what his death accomplished: ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed’ (2:24). The reality of what Christ has done makes sure the hope of the Christian ‘brotherhood’. Christians cannot only endure suffering for Christ’s sake; they can rejoice, for in their agony they are joined to Jesus who suffered for them. Their very sufferings become a sign of hope, for, as Christ suffered and entered into his glory, so will they. The Spirit of glory and of God rests on them (4:14). Whether their neighbours attack or respect them, they can bear witness to the grace of God by their Christian lifestyle. Quietly and humbly they can live holy lives, not seeking to claim their own rights, but honouring others. Such humble living is in no way servile or demeaning, for Christians know themselves to be the royal people of God’s own possession, the chosen heirs of the new creation. They need not avenge themselves, nor need they claim for themselves what is their due; their trust is in the judgment of God. Christians are ‘resident aliens’ in Babylon, but they are members of God’s own household. The gift of God’s love, the blood of Jesus Christ, has redeemed Christians from the corrupt and empty lifestyle of their pagan past; that grace now unites them in fervent love for one another. They serve and help one another, using the rich spiritual gifts with which God’s grace equips them. Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the flock of God, watches over his people. He calls undershepherds to serve him in guarding his sheep. The victory of Jesus Christ over all the powers of darkness frees his people from the power of Satan. They can repulse the roaring lion; in the fires of trial their faith will not be destroyed but purified like gold in the furnace. They may cast all their cares on God, knowing that he cares for them. The grace that already fills Christians with joy will be brought to them fully at the appearing of Jesus Christ. The Lord, whom they love but have not seen, they will see and adore. Knowing well the doom and darkness from which they were delivered, the new people of God sing forth his praises. Their hallelujahs ring from their assemblies, their homes, even from the prison cells where their fear of God has set them free from the fear of man. Their witness is a witness of praise. Nourished by the unfailing Word of God, they taste already the goodness of their Saviour. The true grace of God has called them to his glory: Everything, even their sufferings, will serve his purpose who redeemed them at such a price. Some may scorn the comfort and triumph of Peter’s letter as unpractical theology. His answers are answers of faith. But Peter knows that his witness is true, that Jesus Christ is real. He has tasted that the Lord is good, and that his goodness will not fail. ‘This is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it’ (5:12).”
Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter - The Bible Speaks Today Series

After basking in Clowney’s summary, let us now turn to the three essential themes of the book of 1 Peter. These three, (1) our Salvation, (2) the Church, and (3) the Christian life, form the backbone of this teaching series and subsequent parish small group discussion. In this light, we will briefly explore each one.

Salvation

“Peter uses a host of words to describe what has happened to those who enter the family of God. In particular, he draws deeply from the cultic imagery of the temple with its rituals and worship to express this matter. They have been sprinkled with blood (1:2), they have been ransomed (1:18–19), they have been purified (1:22), they have tasted God (2:3), they have been healed (2:24), and they have been presented before God (3:18). He draws on family imagery when he speaks of their new birth (1:3, 23; 2:2, 24; 3:7,18), their inheritance (1:4–5), and their blessing (3:9). The two terms used most frequently are ‘salvation’ (1:5, 9, 10; 2:2; 3:20–21; 4:18) and ‘grace’ (1:10, 13; 3:7; 5:5, 10, 12). That this understanding of salvation is the foundation of his ethical exhortation to faithfulness in the face of persecution can be seen in these two themes.

The essential message of Peter can be categorized into three separate features: (1) salvation, (2) church, and (3) the Christian Life (McKnight). Peter’s letter is an exhortation to socially disenfranchised Christians to live the Christian Life steadfastly before God with faithfulness, holiness, and love. This steadfastness may lead to suffering, but a genuine understanding of persecution permits them to face it head-on and go forward faithfully. What is more, the foundation of their faithfulness is an understanding of their salvation that Peter paints graphically at the beginning of his letter, and their relationships within the church that Peter elucidates throughout the letter interwoven in the introductory section of the letter (1:3–12). There Peter praises God for their salvation and future hope, a future secured by God, and he rejoices in their current suffering because he knows what it will do for them as they await their final salvation, a salvation predicted long ago. The interweaving of these two themes—to the point of extreme grammatical complexity!—highlights how tied together these themes are for the apostle.

“A similar twisting together of suffering and salvation can be seen in 2:18–25: Peter exhorts slaves not to rebel against even scurrilous masters because, after all, Jesus suffered in the same manner and he trusted God. But Peter’s description of Jesus, the Great Example, tails off into a description of his saving work (2:24–25). Similarly in 3:18–22, the example of Jesus is described with reference to his saving ministry. Fittingly, in a deft combination of ethical exhortation rooted in the salvation of God, Peter’s final prayer wish is that 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’ (5:10)” (McKnight).

Church

“Peter has raided the Old Testament for vocabulary about the new people of God. After describing them as the ‘elect’ (1:1), the apostle lays himself down in a bed of images in chapter 2: ‘living stones’ (2:5), ‘spiritual house’ (2:5), ‘holy priesthood’ (2:5); further, they are a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God … people of God … [those who] have received mercy’ (2:9–10). In addition to these, some scholars today argue the dominant image of the church in 1 Peter is the family of God. The church is a ‘spiritual house’ (2:5) or the ‘family of God’ (4:17). As with other New Testament letters, the directions for specific groups of people are arranged around a family structure (2:11–3:12), revealing that Peter sees the church as a family of God. God is the Father (1:2, 3, 17), who gives birth (1:3) to the new children of God (1:14; 2:2), who in turn form a brotherhood (2:17; 5:9) that practices brotherly love (1:22; 3:8). This new home would have been spiritually and psychologically important to the homeless Christians of Asia Minor, for it was here that they found social acceptance and spiritual nurture. In short, they found a place they could call ‘home’” (McKnight).

Christian Life

“Grounded in the salvation that the believers find in Christ through their new birth (1:3), the Christian life is an inevitable manifestation of that salvation. The exhortations in 1 Peter are rooted in this experience. Thus, after detailing salvation and its privileges (1:3–12), Peter exhorts his readers to practice hope (1:13), holiness (1:14–16), fear before God (1:17–21), love (1:22–24), and growth (2:1–8). The keyword at 1:13 is ‘therefore’: because of salvation, therefore pursue these Christian virtues. For Peter, ethics apart from a grounding in salvation is of no concern because a moral life forms the reverse side of salvation. In the words of Wolfgang Schrage, ‘Without new birth, there is no new obedience. Without hope, there is no basis for Christian life.’ The social context of the Christian life is crucial in 1 Peter: The audience is socially disenfranchised and has found a home in the family of God. They are experiencing persecution, both because of their social location and their spiritual orientation, and Peter’s exhortations concentrate on their need to endure unjust suffering, just as Jesus did (1:6; 2:18–25; 3:13–17; 4:1–6, 12–19; 5:8–10).

“Without a doubt, this social context influences his entire letter to such a degree that his message must be rearranged dramatically in order to speak to a situation where Christians experience little social suffering. Peter’s perspective on the Christian life is that Christians are to live for the salvation that is to come, another indication of the social context of this family of God. God, who judges justly (1:7, 9, 17; 2:12, 23; 3:12; 4:5, 17–19), will reward those who faithfully endure suffering for his sake (1:7, 13; 4:13, 14). After all, they are only temporary residents in their social location (1:1); this provides a key for them to understand that they are to live for the future. As they pursue faith (1:5, 8–9, 21; 2:6–7; 5:9), hope (1:3, 13, 21; 3:5, 15), and joy (1:6, 8; 4:13), they are to be secure in God’s protection of them (1:5). Their primary social group has become the church, the family of God, where they are to love one another (1:22; 2:17; 3:8–12; 4:8–9; 5:14), be humble (3:4, 15; 5:6), submit to one another (3:1–7; 5:1–4, 5), and serve one another (4:10–11). Above all, they are to be sensitive in their communication with one another (2:1; 4:7–11). A clear ethical orientation for Peter is that God’s family is to be holy and pure. They are to obey God (1:2, 13, 22), be holy because God is holy (1:14–16, 18, 22; 2:1–2, 5, 9, 11–12, 15, 20; 3:6, 15, 17; 4:1–6), and live righteous lives (2:24; 3:13; 4:18). Such holiness will serve as a convincing demonstration to outsiders of God’s salvation (2:11–12, 13–17, 18–25; 3:1–6); their lives, then, are a means of evangelism (2:12, 15; 3:1–6, 16), though such lives are to be accompanied by their verbal witness (1:12, 25; 2:9; 3:15; 4:6).

“In essence, then, Peter’s letter is an exhortation to holy endurance of suffering because these Christians have experienced the salvation of God and because that salvation is promised to them in all fullness when the final day arrives. Having received salvation and having been empowered by God with a new life, they must orient their lives toward the future revelation of Christ, love their fellow Christians, and maintain a holy life” (McKnight).

What Might We Glean From This Letter As A Church?

"There is almost nothing that is local or of temporary interest; there are no discussions about points pertaining to Jewish customs such as we meet with in Paul; there is little that pertains particularly to one age of the world or country. Almost all that he has written is of universal applicability to Christians, and may be read with as much interest and profit now by us as by the people to whom his Epistles were addressed."
Albert Barnes, The Ultimate Commentary On 1 Peter: A Collective Wisdom On The Bible
"Fortunately, Scripture is not only timely but timeless. Just as God spoke to the original audience, so he still speaks to us through the pages of Scripture. Because we share a common humanity with the people of the Bible, we discover a universal dimension in the problems they faced and the solutions God gave them. The timeless nature of Scripture enables it to speak with power in every time and in every culture."
Scot McKnight, 1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary)
"No Christian avoids suffering…and no true Christian escapes a measure of suffering for Christ’s sake. Peter speaks to us all when he tells of suffering now and glory to come. Peter’s pastoral letter encourages us by instructing us. Our deepest needs drive us to our deepest beliefs. What hope do we have? Peter proclaims Jesus Christ, our sure hope now and forever. Throughout his letter he grounds our hope in the reality of what God has done and will yet do for us through Christ. The apostle is a witness, not just to what Jesus did and said while he was in his fishing-boat or in his house, but to the meaning of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Peter’s testimony about the life of Jesus is reflected in Mark’s Gospel. In this letter he shows us what that story means for us as Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him."
Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter - The Bible Speaks Today Series

If you ask an American Christian what his or her favorite book of the Bible is, chances are 1 Peter will not make the top of the list. Yet, in exploring several commentaries written by seminary professors, two or three mentioned international students from countries with oppressed churches and marginalized Christians counted 1 Peter as one of their most favorite books. Why? Because while most of us in the West are removed from suffering and marginalization that stems from being Christian, many brothers and sisters all over the world are not. 

And so, as we sit together at St. Peter’s feet over the next few weeks, it seems right to admit some of his writing might seem foreign and distant to us. However, in so doing, we must not escape our duty and responsibility to share in the sufferings of our brothers and sisters both locally and globally. In this light, applying 1 Peter to Christian Living should not fall short of pursuing sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the sufferers throughout the world! A question that should remain front and center for you and your parish small group: Who do I know who is being socially marginalized and what would it look like to get proximate to their pain?

It is also instructive to note Peter is not asking this oppressed and marginalized minority to escape their earthly realities by wishing for heaven. He urges them toward a sure hope in a resurrected Christ, no doubt, but this hope is gritty and grounded in day-to-day living. There is much to be gleaned concerning how we live in our families, in our friendships, in our vocations—and also, how we live as the church, together with one another.

Scot McKnight drives home some application for us today as we think about our mission as a church: “These social nobodies found that God, in His grace, had chosen them as members of his great family (a spiritual house). Furthermore, the analogy today is clearly to our ‘homelessness’ in our society, whether that be spiritual isolation or social manipulation, and our ‘at-homeness’ in God’s family. Even more, it becomes important for the church of Jesus Christ to find the social cracks and those who have fallen through, and then to minister the gospel of God’s acceptance to them, to show them that God’s true family transcends and neglects the social boundaries that society constructs. The church needs to demonstrate itself to be the family where all can be accepted.”

For A Challenge: Memorize 1 Peter 1:1-13 (NIV)

When I was in college, I had to wrestle with my parents’ faith in order to make it my own. One of the things I did was memorize a lot of Scripture. Today, it is easy for me to take for granted dozens of large texts I have memorized over the years. And I now see this as a great deficiency in my pastoring. I have not encouraged our congregation enough toward a commitment to Scriptural memorization. And so, I am asking your parish small group to consider memorizing 1 Peter 1:1-13. This passage is our keystone passage for this teaching series. In fact, we are going to read it aloud every Sunday in church. May God grant you the tenacious perseverance necessary and the subsequent gratification and joy sure to follow as you memorize this text:

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. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. 13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

Sources Explored in order of Preference

The Early Christian Letters for EveryoneN.T. Wright 

1 Peter. The NIV Application CommentaryScot McKnight

The Message of 1 Peter. The Bible Speaks Today SeriesEd Clooney

The Ultimate Commentary On 1 Peter: A Collective Wisdom On The BibleAlbert Barnes (John Calvin, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley)

1 Peter (Two Horizons New Testament Commentary)Joel Green

1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)Karen Jobes

1 Peter (The Story of God Bible Commentary)Dennis Edwards and Tremper Longman III

The First Epistle of Peter (The New International Commentary)Peter Davids

1 Peter (Tyndale New Testament Commentary)Wayne Grudem

*Borrowed heavily from Wikipedia for the history surrounding Walnut Creek.


Community Group Discussions

Preparation for Leaders/Facilitators

  • Read the passage the day before you meet with your group.
  • Attend church or listen to the sermon from the Sunday before.
  • Consider this supplemental reading for personal devotional purposes: “The Early Christian Letters for Everyone,” by N.T. Wright. For a deeper dive consider also: “1 Peter: The NIV Application Commentary,” by Scot McKnight.
  • Be ready to reflect on how the practice or collective action impacted your week. If you did not follow through on the practice or collective action consider why you did not? What prevented you from doing so? What would have helped? Or, were you called to respond differently?

Week 1 (January 10): Salvation By Grace

Scriptures: 1 Peter 1:1-13

  • Practice the Scripture Memory Passage.
  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.) 
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What is Salvation?
    • What is Grace?
    • How have you experienced one or both?
  4. What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.) 
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 2 (January 17): Salvation in Hope

  • Practice the Scripture Memory Passage.
  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.) 
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What is Salvation?
    • What is Hope?
    • How have you experienced one or both?
  4. What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.) 
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 3 (January 24): The Church as Home

  • Practice the Scripture Memory Passage.
  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.) 
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What is the Church?
    • What does it mean for the church to be a home?
    • How have you experienced church as home?
  4. What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.) 
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 4 (January 31): The Church as Mission

  • Practice the Scripture Memory Passage.
  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.) 
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What is the Church?
    • What does it mean for the church to be a mission?
    • How have you experienced church as mission?
  4. What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.) 
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 5 (February 7): The Christian as Stranger

  • Practice the Scripture Memory Passage.
  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.) 
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What is a Christian?
    • What does it mean to be a Stranger?
    • How have you experienced this dynamic?
  4. What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.) 
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Week 6 (February 14): The Christian as Citizen

  • Practice the Scripture Memory Passage.
  • Answer the question: How did the practice or collective action committed to last week draw you closer to Jesus and more deeply into His mission?
  • Read this week’s Passage three times through.
  • Ask God to illumine your heart and prepare your mind for discussion.
  • Questions for Exploration:
  1. What stands out to you / disrupts you / grabs your attention in the scripture?
    (Everyone who would like to, share. Please take less than 1 minute per person to share as this section is intended to be brief.)
  2. How is God’s word connecting to your life / your work / your neighbors in this moment?
    (Read the question and then read the Scripture passage again. Take a moment to ponder the passage. Then, take 1 minute each to share.) 
  3. Particular Questions for this week’s discussion:
    • What is a Christian?
    • What does it mean to be a Citizen?
    • How have you experienced this dynamic?
  4. What themes are arising for your group? How might the Holy Spirit be raising something to your collective awareness?
    (Devote the rest of your time to questions 4 and 5. If something in the passage needs to be clarified, talk about it now as a group.) 
  5. In light of this week’s passage and theme, what action or spiritual practice is God calling you to that you can commit to individually or collectively this week?

Deep Dive: Getting Political

Consider having a conversation about the political implications and applications of 1 Peter. I only offer this suggestion if it would spur on your group toward love and good deeds (rather than “stir up” toward rancor and dissent). And, I also use the term, political, mostly to get your attention—that is part of the problem in our cultural moment—the politicization of everything. Truthfully, I am speaking more about a conversation on culture and society than I am on politics.

On the question of how Christians are to interact with society and culture, I have found no better book than James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. Dr. Hunter suggests that, in America, today’s Christian Church (and its Christians), like her culture, has succumbed to a thorough politicization of all of her actions. Concerning society, we do little more than to contend for change politically—a petition gets passed about, signed, and mailed—we seal the envelope, affix the stamp, and wash our hands of the matter. We believe that new legislation, a new candidate, or a new supreme court justice will bring about the cultural change that we desire.

This phenomenon is not limited to a particular type of church or stripe of a political party. It is ubiquitous in American Christianity. And it is on this point, where Hunter is most insightful. He unfolds the three predominant paradigms employed by American churches over the past 100 years. Each demonstrates a particular posture toward the culture—a posture that is formed by a particular myth, a particular view of history, and a particular common enemy.

  1. The Christian Right- This church or Christian is “defensive against” the culture. This posture is formed by a myth of “order” and a view of history that will be a “return to order.” The common enemy is encroaching “secularization.”

  2. The Christian Left- This church or Christian seeks to be “relevant to” the culture. This posture is shaped by a myth of “egalitarian utopia,” which will again one-day be realized via historical “progress” (Hegelian, if you are into that sort of thing). The common enemy is an unholy Trinity: the Christian right, corporations, and capitalism.

  3. The Neo-Anabaptists- This church or Christian seeks “purity from” the culture. The posture is shaped by a myth of a “pure, early Christianity,” and a view of history that will be a “return to this purity (or even perfection).” The common enemy is a political structure or system. All politics are violent, and in the classically pietistic sense, should be avoided. Hunter rightly contends that this is, ironically, still a political solution, as this methodology is premised upon an evil, political system. If the evil, political structure topples, then the Neo-Anabaptistic paradigm disintegrates. 

A Vision for the Future: Dr. Hunter concludes by leading us toward a fourth paradigm or posture that he calls a “faithful presence within” culture. He stops short of being prescriptive here, reminding his readers that he is a sociologist and not a theologian or pastor, but I get the sense that any proposed engagement would involve both the vocation of the Christian and the vocation of the church. How might a Christian appropriately leverage his or her calling to evoke a faithful presence in the culture? Further, how might a church appropriately grant Christians both the creative space and the theological formation needed so that they might then be this faithful presence to a watching world? 

I couch this conversation in the context of the letter of 1 Peter because I believe, alongside Scot McKnight, that: “One of the earliest Christian documents reflecting on the problem of the relation of the Christian to the state is the First Letter of Peter. I contend that we can learn some enduring insights from studying this letter…. In light of the relationship of Christians to the Roman-led government of Asia Minor, how should Christians live in Peter’s day? Any reading of 1 Peter brings this issue to the surface immediately. It begins in the first verse: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered….” Peter’s contentions are clear: Believers in Asia Minor are to live honorable and holy lives (1:14–16, 18, 22; 2:1, 5, 9, 11–12, 15, 20; 3:6, 15, 17; 4:1–6), they are to endure suffering (1:6–8; 2:18–25; 3:13–17; 4:1–6, 12–19; 5:8–9, 10), they are to live within social structures (2:13–17, 18–25; 3:1–6, 7, 8–12), and they are to be respectful of outsiders (2:11–12)” (McKnight). 

And as we explore 1 Peter in light of culture, society, and politics, we should heed another portion of McKnight’s writings: “Peter’s social world differs considerably from ours…. Different social situations elicit different strategies for living within society. For example, a beleaguered minority, suffering physically at the hands of a ruthless anti-Christian government, will not think of ‘extending its virtues’ into political activity, any more than a dominant Christian majority will think of remaining separate from governmental and political activity when that same government is begging for its votes and input. Put more graphically, enfranchised Christians in Washington, D.C., Bonn, Edinburgh, and Geneva will think of society and Christian influence in society in completely different categories than those disenfranchised Christians in Bogota, Moscow, Saigon, and Cairo. But it is fundamental for each to plumb the depths of the scriptural witness to God’s activities in the history of his people and how that people has related to the world around it” (McKnight).

How might 1 Peter be calling us to engage with culture and society?

The Character Qualities of the Early Christian and Communal Attributes of the Early Church

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*Thanks to Gerald Sittser (Resilient Faith) and Larry Hurtado (Destroyer of the Gods)