1 Peter 1: 3-9
On the recommendation of a good friend, I turned to Robert Leighton’s (1611-1684) massive commentary on First Peter. I’m still working through his opening sentence! Let me give it to you, quote: ’The grace of God in the heart of man, is a tender plant in a strange unkindly soil; and therefore cannot well prosper and grow, without much care and pains, and that of a skillful hand, and that which has the art of cherishing it’.
To be honest, the first sentence continues, running to the entire first paragraph (these Puritans knew how to write a proper book or two) but even the first clause is good enough. God’s grace in all our hearts is a tender plant, in a strange and very often unkindly soil. Isn’t it? Thankfully Peter is a skillful gardener and desires nothing else but that God’s grace grow to become big, strong and fruitful in us all. In order to achieve this, as he opens the main body of his letter he provides us with rich soil in which to cherish it. It is the soil of thanksgiving, and if you are anything like me, it is so refreshing perhaps because it is so neglected. Let me read it for you:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Peter bursts out in praise to God for all that he has done for these Christians.
1. They have been born again. This is the staggering description of every Christian. I know it has been stereotyped, politicised, and is even looked down upon with a degree of pity and mild condescension by some people, not least in the wider church today. How could such crude language be used in such refined settings? But the simple fact is that the Bible talks about the event of becoming a Christian in the most radical way it knows. It is analogous to being born all over again. Peter is not focused on giving thanks for all that these Christians have done to advance the cause themselves. Peter is not interested if they have been able to improve their social standing, focusing on this world. Peter is not even primarily concerned that they have been simply converted from one religion to another - changing the outward practice only without having their hearts truly rewired. No! His first and greatest reason for praise is that God has done something. According to his great mercy he has done something they could never have done for themselves. He has caused them to be born again. And I might add, unless this is true of your life, dear listener, no matter how religious you are, you will never be able to truly give thanks to God. Let us give thanks that he has worked like this in our lives, convincing us of the resurrection, leading us to be born again, and plead that he should work like this in others too.
2. Peter then rushes from the beginning of the Christian’s life to its end, when he speaks of our inheritance. He knows that he must frame the reality of our lived experience between these two great events, the resurrection of Jesus and his glorious return or, our birth as Christians and our enjoyment of our eternal home. And just like Jesus’ resurrection glory the inheritance that God is keeping for us in heaven, is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Nothing in this world even comes close to offering us such joys and splendour. Have you lifted your eyes to see this today?
3. Thirdly Peter underlines for us the fact that nothing, nothing, in the end can prevent us from entering into such an inheritance. God’s power is being exercised and extended to all his people today in order to shield us, or guard us, so that we will endure and persevere. The difficulties we face and experience in a day may indeed seem as though they have nearly overwhelmed us, but we may never know the many other attacks and pitfalls that our gracious God keeps from us by his power throughout our life’s journey. He stands sentinel like, over us. For it is not enough that he should have saved us, but he stays with us, day in, day out, to provide his safe covering so that we might stand firm. What grounds of confidence we have!
4. Indeed so comprehensive is his care, that God can use even the very trials that threaten us to purify our faith. This is a big subject and we will come back to it again as we journey with Peter, but he gives us here a way of understanding our fiery trials. Our faith is even more precious than gold. And gold is thought to be so valuable that it is subjected to the furnace in order to enhance its worth. So too the true Christian’s faith. The real substance and worth and weight of our faith shines through, but only after having passed through the furnace. Could it be that we might find reason to thank God even for our trials this day?
5. Taken altogether Peter encourages them that though they have not seen Jesus, they love him, as they have received and hold fast to the gospel about him. Indeed as they believe in him, that is as their lives are increasingly defined by him, their joy grows and grows and will ultimately, one day, give way to sight, when the receive the outcome of their faith, the salvation of their souls, when they see him face to face.
Peter is thrilled by what God is doing among these Christians. and exhorts them to stand firm in this true grace of God by giving thanks.
O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by the mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!