May 5, 2013
Background Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-12
Devotional Reading: Lamentations 3:19-24
You may or may not have heard the term, “The Catholic Epistles,” a name often applied to the seven New Testament epistles of Peter, James, John and Jude. The reason for this title is, rather than the epistles of Paul that are addressed to specific churches or individuals, these letters are addressed to a general audience – all churches, all followers of Jesus Christ.
The early church father, Origen, termed these letters as “catholic” because they spoke to all Christians in general, everywhere. (So, we may and should say that we are all “Catholic Christians,” although not necessarily “Roman Catholic.”)
The geographic names Peter mentions – Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia – comprise the northern half of Asia Minor (today, Turkey). In Peter’s day these five areas formed four Roman provinces; Pontus and Bithynia were regarded as one province.
This area was inhabited by people of widely different racial, cultural and language backgrounds. It was also the area where Paul worked before crossing the Aegean Sea into Greece.
What does Peter mean in calling the recipients of this letter “exiles of the Dispersion?” He is using an analogy here to identify just who they are, as followers of Jesus Christ in this essentially pagan land. They are a minority there – different translations use “sojourners,” “aliens,” “pilgrims” and “scattered” – but their true fatherland is heaven, a reality they will eventually experience because of Christ’s sacrifice.
So, we, too, are “exiles in Dispersion.”
Peter also says these people are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit …” (1:2). Some think this means that these followers of Christ were predestined to be his chosen people. But remember, the basis of salvation in the New Testament is, always, not a matter of merit, but grace.
They are God’s people, not because they had no choice but because they responded to His call in Jesus Christ. God gives His call to all people and a positive response to that call is all we can do; the grace of salvation is what God can and does do. All are meant to be God’s chosen, but not all accept that choice.
Peter makes a point of saying: “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). What does Peter mean by “a living hope?”
It is a conviction rooted in and dependent upon, not a Christ who died on the cross for us, but such a Christ who is no longer “dead” but vibrantly “alive.” And the aliveness of Christ is something that we can experience now in our lives; that is our “inheritance that is imperishable” (and therefore “a living hope”), “undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:4,5).
This is not just pie-in-the-sky-sometime, but help now and the promise of complete fulfillment when Christ returns: “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of the your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:6,7).
As Charlotte Perkins Gilman put it: “Eternity is not something that begins after you are dead. It is going on all the time. We are in it now.”
When I was in the 10th grade I was accepted on the staff of our high school weekly newspaper.
One of the first things I learned about journalism was at the bottom of every sheet of paper I typed, I needed to type (MORE) so the typesetter would know there was “more to come.” In a sense, that is an analogy for the Christian faith.
Jesus, in his teachings, life and death and resurrection, was and is promising there is “more to come, the fulfillment of our trust in God and his kingdom.” And this is a trust in the there and then, upon which we can live, here and now.
If we live in trust of something MORE, we need to heed A. Maude Royden’s advice: “Learn to hold loosely all that is not eternal.”
Promises of prophets
Peter was writing 2,000 years ago, but his assurance to us is the same: “Although you have not seen him, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1:8,9).
This “salvation,” the disciples were confident, was that promised by the prophets: “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which angels long to look!” (1:12).
I often ask people what they believe in regard to a life after death. Some reply although they believe in Jesus and follow his teachings for the living of this life, an afterlife seems too good to be true and they don’t know what to make of it. I understand, because I sometimes see it that way, too.
But I realize if I could envision or comprehend the “more” God promises us, it wouldn’t be MORE. It wouldn’t stretch beyond human understanding, It would be more of the same and not the “imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1:4).
For faith, trust in God, is not “this is all there is” – but something (MORE).
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.