Strangers Scattered

In the coming days I will be posting summaries of a series of sermons I preached seven years ago on I Peter.  I pray that they will bless, encourage, and challenge you.

Tried With Fire — I Peter

#1 Strangers Scattered, 1:1-12

Peter was writing to believers who were undergoing a “trial by fire” (verses 6 & 7). The spiritual response to such trials is the theme of the book. In the first half of the first chapter, Peter describes our status as believers in this world to explain how this relates to suffering. As strangers who are scattered in this world, it is no surprise that we face trials. Christ said that the world would hate us because it hated Him.  This letter of Peter’s gives instructions for the Christian life under fire.

I. Greeting — We Are Different! (1-2)

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

A. Elect Strangers of the Dispersion. “Elect” means “chosen”, chosen by God.  I’ll take some time on this first point, because much teaching on these two verses (though understandable) has not been well-founded.  The KJV translators have done something very unusual here, and to my knowledge unique. They have taken the fifth word of the first verse in the Greek (“elect”) and have placed it at the beginning of verse two. The Greek reading is (roughly) “Peter, (an) apostle (of) Jesus Christ (to the) elect strangers scattered/dispersed through….”

The reason for their translation choice appears to be that “foreknowledge” (at the start of verse two) is obviously linked to “elect”, and this was the way they used to keep the connection clear.  This is one limitation of translation — the target language (English) is different from the source language (Greek), so it’s not always possible to bring across the same meaning AND the same emphasis.  Perhaps the only thing they could have done differently is to insert additional words, which we see sometimes (Ephesians 2:1 comes to mind), but which translators should always hesitate to do.

In this case, the translators properly connected two key words, but in English this can obscure the focus of Peter’s statement.  Peter is writing about the purpose/effect of election (we are chosen to be strangers and pilgrims), but English readers often take it to be a technical statement about the nature of election — how election works.  Many have taken this to be saying that election (God’s choice) happened because of foreknowledge.  This is neither the emphasis of the Greek nor a correct reading of the English.

“According to” in this verse does not mean “because of” or “based on”.  It means “in agreement with”.  Perhaps a look at I Corinthians 15:3-4 is helpful, where it says that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”  Christ did not die for our sins “because of” the Scriptures (because the Scriptures determined that He would do that).  That would be a silly way to read it — this wasn’t something the Scriptures dictated, it was something God planned and then revealed in Scripture.  Christ died in keeping with, or consistent with, “according to” the things that had been foretold in the Scriptures.  There are many, many examples in Scripture where “according to” clearly has this meaning — “in agreement” or “consistent with”.  Get out your concordance or Bible software and look up “according” and you’ll see what I mean.  This passage, then, is telling us that God’s foreknowledge and His election are in complete agreement, entirely consistent with each other.

Why is all this important? Peter’s purpose is not to give theoretical theologians a debate topic, and we shouldn’t read it that way.  He wants instead to encourage believers who are facing trials.  They need to understand that their status as strangers and pilgrims is chosen by God. He knew about all of these problems from all eternity.  He has sovereignly chosen us to be strangers/pilgrims who will face opposition and fiery trials.  It was His plan all along.  It is no surprise to God.  We need to understand “elect” in this passage the way in which it was intended, as a pastoral comfort to a persecuted church.

B. Foreknown by God. This is not “crystal ball gazing.” What does it mean to be “known by God?” Psalm 1:6 says, “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” John 10:14-15 says, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus will say to the hypocrites, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” To be known by God is to be known intimately, to be brought into a close, loving relationship.

Are you facing a fiery trial? You must understand that God has chosen you to be a stranger/pilgrim in this world, and that He did that in complete harmony with (“according to”) an intimate love and knowledge of you which has always been there. He, the Almighty God, knew you long before, before your parents were born, before the very first parents had the very first son, and the fiery trial you face is an outgrowth of His love and intimate knowledge of you.

Tell the theoreticians to quit arguing about election and foreknowledge and give your verse back :).  It doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to you, the believer who is suffering the trials of this life.  God gave it to you as an encouragement and a comfort to strengthen your faith.

C. Set Apart by the Spirit. “Sanctification” means to be set apart, to be separate. If you aren’t separated from corruption, from the world, from disobedience, you aren’t being what God has called you to be.  You are set apart to be His, and your role as strangers and pilgrims is interwoven with that truth.  That holiness makes us different, even as it sets us apart to be persecuted as well.

D. Unto Obedience and Sprinkling. Cleansing and obedience go together. If there is no desire at all in your heart for obedience, you haven’t been cleansed. This is that for which we have been set apart.  Holiness is a major theme in I Peter.

E. Grace and Peace Multiplied. We may face fiery trials, but by God’s abundant grace we can have abundant peace.  Only Peter (in both of his letters) and Jude use “multiplied” in this way.

II. We are Heirs of the Father (3-5)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

We are strangers because of the family into which we’ve been brought. Do you face fiery trials? Remember that you are God’s child, and that trials may come with that status — but what glorious privileges are yours!

A. Begotten to a Living Hope. We’ve been begotten (born) into a living hope. We have a new life, and that life is eternal, a hope that lives and never dies. The resurrection of Christ brings us into that hope, and it assures us that it is a living hope. When hope dies, the heart grows cold with despair, but our hope in Christ will never die, for He lives forevermore!

B. A Perfect Inheritance From God.

  1. Incorruptible. Permanent – will not die, decay, or rust.
  2. Undefiled – pure, nothing will defile heaven.
  3. Fadeth not away — will never lessen in glory. Unlike the pleasures of this life, we will never grow jaded with heaven, its glory will never fade for us.

C. A Sure Inheritance. “Reserved in heaven for you.” The picture here is of being safely guarded, held in safe custody, like the gold reserves in Fort Knox. Are you facing trials here? It is only for a time, for you have a perfect inheritance being guarded in Heaven’s Fort Knox.  Inflation can’t touch it, and this is one Gold Standard that will never be abandoned.

D. Kept Unto Salvation. The picture here is of a military guard. We may be out in the battle, soldiers of the Lord in a hostile environment, but we are kept safely by that military guard — the power of God! Note that we are not kept unto physical safety, nor unto a wealthy or long life.  Rather, the power of God keeps that one thing that assures our inheritance, the one thing that is truly important — our salvation.

III. We are Glorifying Christ (6-9)

6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

A. Greatly Rejoicing THROUGH Our Trials. I have often said that Christianity is not stupid. We do not pretend that trials do not come, we do not pretend that they are not severe, nor do we pretend that God is always going to “bail us out” when they come so that we don’t have to go through them. Our rejoicing is not dishonest. We are to honestly acknowledge the trials, and their severity, but rejoice anyway. Why? Because our joy is not based on minimising them, but on acknowledging what we have in Christ and what He is doing through them.

B. The Value of Our Faith — To Praise, Honour, and Glorify God. Your faith is valuable! It is compared to gold here, gold refined in the fire. One does not refine coal, or chalk — they aren’t worth it. But God does refine our faith, because it is immensely valuable. Why? Our refined faith praises, honours, and glorifies God. Are you going through a fiery trial? It is because God is refining your faith to praise, honour, and glorify Him.

What does that mean? It means our trials, when it comes right down to it, aren’t about us. We get so caught up in ourselves:  what is happening to me, what I’m going through, how it makes me feel. But the Christian life isn’t about ME! It is about HIM! If my fiery trial praises and honours Him, if it refines my faith so that I can better glorify Him, then my trial is a blessing, a gift from God. The only reason we don’t see it that way is because we are looking at ourselves, rather than at our real purpose in this life. And when we see the trial as refining our faith, and equipping us to praise Him, if even for a brief moment we can get our eyes off of our own selfishness and unto HIS glory, we will truly rejoice IN the trials, rather than rejoicing DESPITE the trials.

C. Loving, Believing, Rejoicing, Receiving. In verses 8 and 9, I suggest that Peter may be remembering. Look at the text, and see if you can see him remembering Thomas, who had to see to believe. Look again, and see if you can see him remembering his own experience by the shores of Galilee, when Christ asked, “Lovest (agape) thou me?” Peter could only answer, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest I love (phileo) thee.” His pride broken by his own failure in denying Christ, he could not claim the highest love, that of seeking the best for the one loved, but only the brotherly (phileo) love. Yet here, Peter exults in what God has done in those to whom he writes, and says, “Whom having not seen, ye love (agape)”.

You see, if we truly love Christ with a real love, then we trust Him when the trials come, and because we love Him, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory that He is refining our faith, though it be by fire. If you chafe under your trials, you aren’t loving Him. You aren’t really receiving His love, which tells us that all is done to complete our salvation.  To reject the trials His plan brings is to reject love.

IV. We Are Receiving That Promised Salvation (10-12)

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

As you face the trials, remember that this salvation that has separated us from the world, that has made us heirs of God, and as a result brings us into these fiery trials, is the salvation that has always been promised. This is the pinnacle of God’s work of salvation.  We’re “living the dream”, rejoicing in the salvation He promised all along, which neither the prophets nor the angels really understood.

A. The Prophets’ Ignorance.  They didn’t even understand it, or know all that we would receive. It was not revealed to them.  They were ministering to us when speaking of this salvation.  The things they taught looked forward to this great salvation prepared for you, a pilgrim-stranger by God’s plan.

B. This Grace Has Come to Us. This grace is glorious enough that only glimpses of it made the prophets inquire and search diligently. They knew enough to know they wanted more.  We don’t know how fully they knew God’s plan for our salvation, but we know it.  Think about that.  We KNOW what God has done.  Of course, we can’t really comprehend the fullness of it, but we know the love that sent His Son to walk this sad and sinful earth, to live with weak and selfish sinners, and to go to the cross. We know the victory of the resurrection. We can see all that He has done for us. And seeing that, knowing that, will we complain about trials that refine our faith for His glory?

C. The Same Spirit Proclaims it Today. The Holy Spirit that proclaimed this salvation of old proclaims it today in our hearts, breaking down barriers, opening eyes.  Ever has God revealed Himself by His Spirit, and through Him alone our eyes are opened.

D. The Angels’ Desire. Your salvation is such a wonderful thing that the angels desire to understand it:

No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his wond’ring eye at mysteries so bright.

As you face the fiery trials, remember who you are (or better, Whose you are) and what you have. You are a stranger, a pilgrim — called to be different, for you are of a different Family, a child and heir of God. As such, we should expect fiery trials — they are part of the package. The trials are there to refine your faith that you might praise Him, for that is the purpose of the great salvation He has given you.

Next in series:  #2 How Shall We Then Live?

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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