• The BaptistWay lesson for Oct. 20 focuses on 1 Peter 1:1-12.
I grew up listening to ’90s era country music while riding in the car with my dad. I’m still a fan of much of it, especially the songs that reflect on previous experiences and lessons learned throughout life. Tracy Lawrence released a song that typifies this genre called “Lessons Learned.” If you can tolerate country music, give it a listen below.
For those who’d rather not, here are a few lines from the chorus: “Lessons learned, and they sure run deep. They don’t go away, and they don’t come cheap. Oh, there is no way around it ’cause this world turns on lessons learned.”
I thought of this song as I read the first 12 verses of 1 Peter. It is clear the hot-headed, impulsive Peter of the Gospels has matured in his faith. He writes with reflective calmness, assurance and encouragement to people who may be learning some of the same lessons he did as a disciple of Jesus.
Peter’s audience is described in a twofold manner that influences the way the rest of this letter is written: 1) elect and 2) strangers or exiles. Peter uses these Jewish words that are full of meaning for him and applies them to Christians scattered throughout the world. Since this letter is directed to so many groups of people, it takes on a general tone.
What Peter is doing is not that different from what your pastor does on Sundays when applying the Bible to people in the congregation who come from different walks of life.
The words of these verses likely compose an early Christian confession (2 Corinthians 1:13; Ephesians 1:13) and are used by Peter to establish grounds for the Christian hope. At the heart of this hope is the resurrection of Jesus. This was not a hope Peter understood instantly. The Gospel of Luke portrays him leaving the empty tomb wondering what had happened (24:12). John’s Gospel explains that when Peter and “the beloved disciple” arrived on the scene, they “did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (20:9).
Yet, in this epistle, he speaks openly and confidently about the salvation made available through Christ’s death and resurrection. Thomas famously is given credit for being the disciple who doubted, but the confidence expressed in Peter’s epistle was not always doubtless and unwavering.
I used to think doubt was horrible and experiencing it meant one was deficient in some way. In college, I took a class called “Psychology of Religion” and came across a quote by Rollo May that transformed my thoughts on the subject: “Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt.”
Peter exhorts his readers to have this kind of commitment in the midst of various kinds of sufferings they may encounter. He speaks about suffering in a very general way, leading most to believe he was not talking about physical persecution. This is the kind of suffering we can relate to—the kind that just happens without a seemingly concrete cause. Peter does not directly ascribe this kind of suffering to God, nor does he point to a specific purpose for it. Yet, he does point out two results that can come from any kind of suffering—a stronger faith and “praise, glory and honor at Christ’s return.”
You’ve heard that “everything happens for a reason.” In a sense, this concept can be taken from 1 Peter. The reason, however, is limited to faith and its ultimate reward of salvation. Perhaps a better way of saying this is “everything that happens can have a reason.” Unfortunately, this also means suffering can be meaningless if we do not allow it to spur us on towards faith in Christ. We have to stop asking “why” something happens and start asking “how” it can strengthen our faith and glorify God.
Given his experiences in Judaism and as a disciple and an apostle, Peter knew it was impossible to comprehend an individual reason for every hardship. He points to the prophets who “searched intently and with greatest care” (v. 10) to discern how God was working to bring about his ultimate will in Christ. They were able to understand pieces of the Gospel, but much of it remained hidden until God revealed his plan through Jesus in the New Testament. These are not things that easily can be given over to human understanding and logic.
So, perhaps the best course of action is not to speculate. Everything we need to know has been revealed to us. And everything we go through can serve to strengthen our faith in what we know in Christ. If that is the only lesson we learn from the trials and sufferings we face, we still can rejoice in a hope that transcends our earthly problems.