Pastoral Perspectives

To the Elect Exiles of the Dispersion!

This Sunday we begin a new sermon series on the epistle of 1 Peter. So what is the letter all about? The opening verse tells us that it was the apostle Peter who wrote the letter that was addressed to the elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. These places covered an area mainly north of modern Turkey and a region that was probably not evangelised by Paul, since Acts 16:7 tells us that he was forbidden to enter Bithynia and went into Europe instead. And since Peter did not address any specific person in the letter nor mention any of his visits, it is believed that the area was probably reached by others, perhaps by those who were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and had believed in the gospel (Acts 2:8 lists the places). Its content also suggests to us that the recipients were mainly Gentiles believers. So why would Peter addressed them as elect exiles of the dispersion, a term that was more relevant to the Jews?

Now what was the occasion that led Peter to write to groups of believers scattered over various regions? It seemed that they were facing hostilities by those in the families, communities and societies for their faith. As such, they were suffering and sometimes unjustly all because they were living their lives differently compared to their pagan neighbours. So it wasn’t the kind of state-led persecution against Christianity by the Romans that we are more familiar with. This would happen later, beginning first with the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. Meanwhile news might have reached Peter, who was believed to be in Rome at that time, and hence he wrote to encourage them. As such, 1 Peter remains relevant for churches down the ages because Christians can also expect to be treated likewise by their ‘pagan’ neighbours when they live out their Christian testimonies. So what can we learn from the apostle as he addresses his recipients’ problems?

It is normal for us to expect immediate answers to the problems we have at hand. So if I have problem starting my car, I want to know how to overcome it and not a discourse on how the starting mechanism works and what causes it to fail. Such technical information is meaningless when I am caught with a car that refuses to start in a basement car park. Yet when Peter heard about their situation, he did not address it immediately. After the usual opening greetings and thanksgiving (1:1-12), he begins instead by giving the basic characteristics of a Christian life and the implications that come with being a Christian (1:13-2:10). He follows on by discussing how Christians should therefore conduct themselves in the family and the society, especially alongside those who did not share the same faith (2:11-3:12). The apostle finally addresses their problems and the possibilities of persecution and how they ought to view and deal with these things (3:13-5:11) before ending the letter with benediction and greeting.

So what does it say to us? To put it simply, it teaches us that theology must undergird all our practices. That is, in all that we do, whether it is to act upon something new or different or to react to something that has happened, our actions must be based on the sound teachings of the Word. The trouble for our generation today is that we are very willing to devote time and money to learn engineering, law, business, medicine, etc. but not theology. What we usually want to hear from pastors are the how-to to solve our problems and get on with our lives. Yet Peter takes time to explain theology first before he gets down to life issues. For that’s really how a Christian grows in faith and deals with life challenges when he learns about God and understands his ways and wills. So are you keen to learn? What theology does Peter expound in his short letter?

You may be surprised that Peter packs in as much theology in his short letter as Paul would have in his many letters. So 1 Peter is like a short or perhaps the shortestinspired catechism available. But it also contains some of the most difficult and controversial teachings found in the NT. Key doctrines include Trinity and the roles the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit play, and the salvation made possible through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Key teachings include the call to holy, godly and victorious living in the face of challenges and opposition, esp. when Satan prowls around like a roaring lion. Peter also uses many OT illustrations to give new understanding of God’s overall redemptive plan in the light of Jesus Christ and how the church ought to understand her role as God’s spiritual house and chosen people. All these were expounded by the apostle in order to encourage the people. Therefore if you think you are facing trials in life, then be willing to learn these things as well and discover for yourself why we also belong to the elect exiles of the dispersion.