Lesson Two – The Body of Peter’s First Letter

The Body of Peter’s First Letter


This is a continuation of Lesson One.  In this lesson we will make a summary observation of the body and close of Peter’s first letter.  We will keep his express purpose for writing the letter in mind according to Lesson One.  The aim is to follow Peter’s thoughts through the epistle.  We want to interpret the content of each thought based on his stated purpose for writing.  In this way we can learn what he meant to say to the Christians in the first century.  Each thought is understood, first as it relates to the main purpose of the document, and then in the context of the particular portion of the letter.  The question we always ask is how does this thought function to support the purpose of the letter?  When reading letters we move from thought to thought according to the writer’s style.  Paragraphs have been pressed upon the translation of the manuscript of the Bible by the wisdom of men.  Their paragraph work is helpful; however, we need to make our own determination where thoughts begin and end.

Since this lesson is merely a “getting acquainted,” or a preview, of the movement of Peter’s thoughts, we will leave the detailed study for later.  At this point our aim is to understand why he wrote the letters and a general idea of what he said to the historical situation.  This is called historical analysis in an exegetical approach to the study of a letter.  Peter wrote to stir up the recipients minds about what they already had been taught.  The aim was to prepare them for the onslaught of false teachers, immoral and greedy business people and agnostic scoffers.  Please read II Peter chapters 2 and 3.

There is another principle of biblical interpretation we need to keep in mind.  We must know what the recipients knew.  Peter did not write to teach them about the topics he will recall to their memory.  They knew about these topics and, for the most part, they were “firmly established” in them (II Pet. 1:12).  If we do not understand the topic in the particular thought we are studying, we will need to learn what we can about it from other scriptures.  Otherwise, we will not be able to fully understand what the author is saying to them.  In fact, we may misunderstand.  We must understand what is being said to the original recipients.  This is how we determine the meaning of scriptures.


I Peter 1:3-5.  Peter began his task of strengthening the churches to overcome the false teachers and scoffers by directing the elect’s thoughts to a point beyond Judgment Day.  He may have been thinking of the recipients need for the integration of all their capabilities toward one goal in order to strengthen their character.  Anything less than a view after Judgment Day would not be far enough into the future to integrate their capacities and maintain strong character.  The ultimate hope of Christians is in our inheritance of God’s kingdom and eternal life (Jas. 1:12; 2:5).  Peter began at once to set the course for their “wholesome thinking” on Christians’ ultimate hope (II Pet. 3:1).  The recipients’ inheritance would satisfy their innate needs for “praise, glory and honor.”  I Pet. 1:7.  For a more detailed study of a faithful Christian’s inheritance please see my book entitled “The Kingdom of God, Part VI, Lessons Six and Seven.  It can be viewed on my website, www.kingdomofchrist.info.  A personal goal for the satisfaction of innate needs beyond physical death, resurrection and the rewards on Judgment Day serves as an integrating force that will produce strong character.

1:6-9.  The foregoing introduced the next thought in this letter.  The recipients’ inheritance was in heaven but they were on earth living by faith.  They were presently being shielded from their adversaries by God’s power; however, the shield, or protection, was dependent upon their faith.  This thought harmonizes with what James dedicated most of the first two chapters of his letter.  He taught the value of “faith made complete” in relation to the “salvation of your souls.”   See Jas. 2:22; I Pet. 2:9.  Peter joined James in reminding the recipients the value of “suffering as a Christian,” or “faith testing” in I Pet. 4:12-19.

1:10-12.  The Spirit of Christ in the former prophets “predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”  The key challenge for Christians in the Holy Spirit’s sanctification work is our determination to “schedule pain and comfort.”  Jesus illustrated this law of life (II Cor. 1:3-7).  Pain must always be scheduled first in our learning exercises.  Jesus set this example for learning.

1:13-16.  In light of the foregoing; Peter pre-empted his declaration for the purpose of his letters in II Peter 3:1, 2.  He also reminded the recipients of their lives before being born again.  This may have served to impress upon them the need to get focused on Jesus’ return trip for them.

1:17-21.   This block of scripture should be read with the “from God through Jesus” view of spiritual reality established in I Cor. 8:6.  Jesus suffered to fulfill His part, but the power to raise Jesus “from the dead” was in the hands of God.  Christians’ faith and hope are in God.

1:22-25. God predestined His sonship program before He created the world and mankind.  His attribute of omniscience provided Him with foreknowledge about the activities of Satan.  The devil played the role of an antagonist in the God/man relationship; therefore, the Christ’s suffering was also predestined.  What God predestined to become a spiritual reality is His will (Luke 22:42).  Will functions between the mind/heart decisions and behavior (I Cor. 7:37).  God’s will was marked off before creation.  It was foreknown in His mind and heart.  Jesus provided the behavior necessary to cause what God foreknew would happen – to happen for faithful Christians (Eph. 1:3-14).  Jesus came to do God’s will (John 4:34).  God through Christ has the power to bring about the necessary activities for His predestined plan.

God spoke His will and heaven and earth became a physical reality through Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15-20).  The power was in God’s word.  The word of God is synonymous with His will for mankind.  This is not always true of mankind.  The power was not in Jesus; however, God has now given Him the power He possesses to bring about what the Father predestined (Heb. 1:3).  This is the “wholesome thinking” Peter wanted the Christians to think about.  They had been taught these things so they could draw on them for spiritual strength when challenged by the devil’s false apostles (I Pet. 5:8; II Cor. 11:13-15).  The Apostle John began his gospel and first letter on this level of spiritual thinking.  We need to study our Bible so we have something to think about.  Thinking and learning cannot be separated.  Faith comes from learning and thinking about what we learn in relation to questions of “why and how” God created us.  Christians’ strength of character flows from the faith in what we think.  We think about and have faith in what we have understood and believed about God’s word.  Peter finished his compound thoughts in chapter one with, “And this is the word that was preached to you.”  I Pet. 1:25.

2:1-3.  “Therefore” is the word Peter used to turn the recipients thoughts from the powerful gospel topics in chapter one to what is often referred to as “just being human.”  This list is sometimes thought of as “little sins.”  However, freedom from “malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” may require a lifetime of spiritual growth.  See Col. 3:5-10.  When this kind of growth does not become the top priority for the “salvation of the souls” of believers, “sincere love for our brothers” will not happen (I Pet. 1:9, 22).  This is the only hint of a problem Peter mentioned about the spiritual condition of the recipients.  He may have assumed the problem would be manifesting itself in most church fellowships; therefore, Christians need to examine ourselves about our true feelings about our brethren.

2:4-10.  The church Jesus is building for God is truly God’s temple on earth (Matt. 16:15-19; Eph. 2:19-22).  This block of scripture is a key part of what Paul meant when he said, “I laid a foundation as an expert builder.”  I Cor. 3:10.  There is no room for the “wisdom of men” in a church where the members function as the body of Christ.  Jesus is the “stone of Zion.”  Christians are “the people of God” who believe this “stone is precious.”

2:11, 12.  Note Peter’s form of address:  “Beloved, I exhort.” NASB.  This is perhaps the best literal translation from the Greek word agapetos (it comes from the verb agapao – to love).   It has been translated “beloved” in Matt. 3:17.   See “dear friends” in NIV and “dearly beloved” in the KJV.  Exhort has been translated from parakaleo, (two words – para, to the side; kaleo, to call).  It is a verb; whereas, the noun, paraklesis, is found in the phrase “God of all comfort” in II Cor. 1:3.  God is by our side in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus Christ, in His role as high priest, is Christians’ advocate before God.  Advocate has been translated from parakletos in I John 2:1.

This block of scripture may be Peter’s challenge for the church to live up to their identity as sons of God.  It may also serve as an introduction of their role in several encounters under the heading of “submission.”  Submission is a Christian’s strongest challenge.  We are overcoming our evil desires while living in the world where the “norm of life” is seeking satisfaction for evil desires.  Christians live as “aliens and strangers in the world” while at the same time we are ambassadors for God to the non-Christian society.  The Greek word in verse 12 is ethnos.  It has been translated Gentiles; NASBpagans; NIV.

This is what Peter wanted the recipients “to think about” in order to prepare themselves for their remaining time on earth “in Adam, in Christ.”  This was presented in view of the false teachers they would encounter in the church and the ungodly thinkers in the world.

I Pet. 2:13-4:11.  This compound block of scriptures has been introduced by the phrase, “Beloved, I exhort.”   Peter made use of this same personal loving greeting when he told them why he was writing both letters (II Pet. 3:1).  Peter wanted the recipients to feel he was with them in what he was about to say.  He had learned many lessons about submission.  Jesus taught him to be submissive from the time He called him from the life of a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee until He was taken up in the clouds.  Peter’s experiences included suffering because of his own weaknesses.  Suffering is the way he, and we, learn to overcome each challenge.  Please note in I Pet. 4:12 he will use “beloved” to introduce God’s discipline program for developing His children:  “Do not be surprised about the painful trial you are suffering.”

Peter’s style in this text was to first introduce a situation common to routine life.  In the scenarios he set up for consideration; it is always the Christian who must submit.  It is not about how others should behave.  Peter will reveal a law of life he learned by observing Jesus’ behavior.  We will recognize these submission exercises as a Christian’s faith testing exercise from our study of James.  These exercises are also the Holy Spirit’s sanctification program to develop Christians as sons of God.

The following presentation is an effort to follow the essence of Peter’s train of thought.  Item “a” is the scenario in which he wants the recipients to imagine themselves involved.  Item “b” will reveal the life principle for their spiritual growth.  The will of God is that Christians need to submit to the given situation for their own character and personality growth.  Also we serve God as “salt and light” in the given situations Peter presented (I Pet. 1:12; Matt. 5:13-16).

2:13-17aSubmit to every authority.

b.  It is God’s will.  Christians are His servants; therefore, “Respect every person: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”  Christians’ faith: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Rom. 12:2.  The testing of our faith, “makes complete” our faith (Jas 2:22).  It becomes who we are – our identity.  It also gives us the grace of being counted as righteous while we work on improving our unrighteousness; therefore, we are friends of God (Jas. 2:23).

2:18-20a.  Submit to the authority in the work place – both the good and the harsh bosses, alike.  b.  Legitimate suffering in godliness is beneficial for strengthening the weaker components of Christians’ character (Heb. 12:7-13).

2:21-25.  Jesus has set the example.  Christians have been taught “to this you were called.”  We accepted discipline by suffering in our repentance before baptism in the “born again” processes.

3:1-6.  a.  “Wives, in the same way” accepted being submissive to their husband when they said, “I do” at the consummation of their marriage covenant.  The situation Peter called to the recipients’ minds was a case where the wife was a Christian but the husband was not.

b.  The beauty of the wife’s outer-self may have played a role in attracting her spouse before marriage; however, the beauty of her inner person can serve to make him, and keep him, a Christian husband.  This will provide both of them a Christian home.

3:7.  a.  Christian husbands:  Christ is the head of every man; therefore, Jesus is their example.

b.  Submit to God’s will in marriage so “nothing will hinder your prayers.”

3:8-12.  a.  All members of the church individually respond to other members by turning from evil and doing good.

b.  “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.”  Righteousness pertains to behavior.  The holiness of personality and character in the “self” of an individual will result in righteous behavior.  This becomes his or her habits.

3:13-17.  a.  Serving as an evangelist: “Why not?”  This was Peter’s question. “Who will harm you?”

b.  “Give the reason for the hope that you have,” but keep a clear conscience about the way you do it, especially, when you face mean-hearted rebuttals.

3:18-32.  a.  Jesus set the example for the spirit of evangelism.

b.  The righteous serve the unrighteous.

4:1-6.  a.  Christians fraternizing with their friends who are not Christians can be spiritually fatal.

b.  Unless God’s people arm ourselves with the same attitude about suffering Jesus practiced we have not finished with sin.  Christians need to be finished with sin; otherwise, we may “throw our pearls to pigs.”  Matt. 7:6.  See II Pet. 2:20-22.

4:7-11.  a.  Mature Christians who were living each day as if it were their last day of life “in Adam” is a fitting scenario in this long compound block of thoughts.

b.  They are “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  Please note the “Amen” at the end of this thought.  This signals the close of this compound block of Peter’s thoughts for which he wanted the church to give “wholesome thinking.”  Please review Lesson One to keep in mind why he wrote these letters.

I Pet. 4:12-19.  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; …”  NASB.  Peter led the recipients’ attention back to “proving their faith to be genuine” in I Pet. 1:6-9.  This block of scripture speaks to the struggle happening within a Christian’s mind, heart and conscience.

Let us suppose we are in one of the situations in the preceding block of scripture under an item marked “a.”  We were abused for doing right and we suffered physically.  This is one side of the coin of suffering.  The pain we deal with inside our “selves” is the suffering to which we must submit ourselves.  The battle inside is about resisting or submitting.  Submit we win, resist we lose.  Of course, Christians resist evil but in our routine encounters our Lord asks us to submit.

In this discourse, Peter is addressing how the recipients should deal with pain in relation to the person, or persons, in authority over them.  We submit to the just and unjust, so God is glorified.  God will be pleased with our submissive attitude.   The value of this faith testing experience will be our submissive attitude.  As this attitude strengthens within us it will generalize in its response to others.  We will be more submissive to our family members in our homes and in the church.  We will be more submissive to God, our Father.  The struggle we may encounter within our “selves” will be between our own will and the will of God.  We must learn to submit our will to God’s will as Jesus did during His life “in Adam.”

This block of scripture is dealing with the age old human problem of the pain of suffering from injustice behavior of others.  Peter speaks of “suffering as a Christian.” V. 16.  People in the world usually “fight back” in his or her human pride or just “give up” to whatever causes them pain.  A Christian’s battle is between his or her faith in the will of God and their individual freedom as a child of God.  See I Pet. 1:7; 2:15, 16.  Jesus fought this same battle and because He won, Christians have been made free to fight the same battle (Luke 22:39-44).  The winning attitude of genuine faith is found in I Pet. 4:19.  We simply commit ourselves to God.  He is the potter, we are the clay (Rom. 9:21).  A creative potter builds beautiful and useful pots.  James taught how the result of successful faith testing is patience.  Patience is the key factor in all growth exercises.

5:1-4.  Peter now turns the recipients’ attention to individuals in the church.  Each congregation of God’s people was shepherded by elders (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9).  Peter served as one of these overseers at the time he wrote this letter.  He served in a local church.  At the same time, as an apostle, he served in a much broader field; however, in both offices he functioned as a preacher and a teacher.

5:5-7.  Young men and “all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” that God “may lift you up in due time.”

5:8, 9.  “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion.”  “Resist him, standing firm in your faith.”

5:10, 11.  “After you have suffered a little while.”  God gives faithful Christians grace “in Christ” to restore the mental environment mankind enjoyed in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve broke covenant.  The environment was healthy there because there was no fear of death, no guilt of sins and God was there for fellowship with the inhabitants.  Because Jesus was obedient to God’s will Christians are free from the sin and death environment mature people have in the world.  However, in our present bodies and on this earth we have the awareness of good and evil.  Our struggle “in Adam, in Christ” is choosing good over evil (I Pet. 3:10-12; Rom. 12:9, 21; III John 11).  After we have suffered a little while and overcome evil, God will give us “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of the righteous.”  II Pet. 3:13.

With another “Amen” Peter closed the body of his first letter.

The close.  I Pet. 5:12-14.  “ Greet one another with a kiss of love.”  NIV & NASB  Kiss has been translated from the Greek word philemati.  It was used for a greeting or farewell.  Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 16:20; II Cor. 13:12; I Thess. 5:26.

Questions for Discussion

1.  Why will it be very important to keep Peter’s purpose for writing his letters fresh in our minds as we move from thought to thought through the letters?  What was the content of Peter’s letters suppose to do for the recipients about what they already knew?

2.  Peter presented Christians’ new birth and our inheritance for the periphery of his discussion to exhort the church to prepare for the onslaught of the false teachers and atheists.  The circumference of the field of thought he introduced is life, as in eternal life, for God’s people.  Briefly explain the impact on our present lives of Christians’ new birth and our inheritance.  How does the satisfaction of our higher needs depend on our inheritance?

3.  How does Christians’ suffering impact our faith?  How does the goal of our faith become synonymous with the salvation of our souls?  How does your answer to these two questions relate to “growing up into your salvation?”

4.  What is the significance of God’s will for Christians before creation?   How does will fit into the attributes of Divine and human beings?  How did Jesus activate what was in the mind of God before creation?

5.  The only negative words Peter may have had about the recipients were recorded in I Pet. 2:1.  Please note the nature of these character weaknesses.  What might have motivated Peter to insert this exhortation after he said, “love one another deeply?”

6.   Submissive is the topic of discussion from I Pet 2:13 through 4:11.   We will study these topics in detail in following lessons.  Please list the different scenarios Peter set up.  List the ones that best describes your scenario.  How does the phrase “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake” explain why Christians always submit even though we did right?

7.  Describe a scenario where, “if we are resistive we lose.”   Describe a situation where, “if we do not resist we lose.”  How does adopting the attitude of “submitting ourselves to God” turn the pain in suffering to joy?

8.   Explain how the mental/spiritual environment “in Christ” is similar to the same aspect in the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve broke the covenant God gave them.

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