1 Peter 1:3-12—Praise to God
Letters written around the time of 1 Peter often opened with thanksgiving or blessings, and the themes of those letters can sometimes be discern in the motifa of the thanksgiving. Such is the case here, where themes of suffering and hope come together, themes that will permeate the entire letter.
1:3-5. God is praised here for the ways in which Christians have been elected and redeemed. God, who is ‘Father’ in v. 2, is now explicitly acknowledged as (above all) the Father of Jesus Christ. The writer, who prayed grace and peace for the readers, now inisists that God has already provided mercy to those who are chosen. In the face of distress and suffering, what God’s mercy provides is ‘new birth’ and ‘living hope.’
Dor the earliest generations of Christians, it was clear that Christians life was ‘new birth.’ One was not born into the faithful community, but chose it, often leaving behind the security or the good reputation of the old life for the insecurity-and blessing-of the new. Goppelt points out the word for ‘born again,’ (anagennao) occurs only here in the New Testament, although the motif is obvious elsewhere (e.g., John 3:3, 5, 7; Titus 3:5; James 1:8). Hope lives because it is based in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his triumph over death. Hope lives because even in the face of tribulation it does not back down or grow faint. Living hope is hope that gives life.
There is a clear parallel here beween the new birth of Christ and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both move from death to life; thus the resurrection of Jesus is the grounds for the new life of the believer. It may be tat there is an allusion to baptism here as well, with something like the reminder of Rom 6:4: ‘Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the gloryt of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life’. Verses 4-5 spell out the twofold shape of Christian hope. On the one hand, Christians lay hold of a promise tat is already kept in the heavens (see Eph. 1:11-14; Col. 1:5). That is, however difficult earthly life may seem, God’s promise is signed and sealed and guaranteed. On the other hand, the fullness of that salvation has not yet been revealed and will not be so until the last day.
The claim that Christians have an inheritance in heaven has a rich background in the Old Testament and is also attested elsewhere in Christian literature. It may be that the notion of rebirth in v. 3 leads to the promise of an inheritance, since those who are born as children of God with that rebirth become ‘legally’ heirs of God’s promises.
Notice too, the shift in the use of pronouns from v. 3 to v.4. In v.3 God has given ‘us’ new birth, and in v. 4 God keeps an inheritance for ‘you.’
The qualities of this heavenly inheritance, that it ‘can never perish, spoil or fade’ (NIV), suggests what it means to say that Christians are born anew to a living hope. It is a hope that no power can destroy, tarnish, or mar. What can keep believers steadfast while they await their heavenly inheritance is faith. Faith, is, in part, the confidence that believers do have a treasure laid up for them that neither moth nor rust can corrupt. The letter throughout helps its readers to find what does not perish in a perishable and perishing world.
1:6-7. The verb with which v. 4 began, ‘rejoice’ (agalliao) can be either indicative (true actions or fact) or imperative (command or request) – either ‘you do rejoice in this salvation’ or ‘you should rejoice in this salvation.’ Even if the verse is descriptive, the implication is clear that despite all odds the Christians of Asia Minor are to find joy even in difficult circumstances.
‘In this’ can mean either ‘in this promise’ or ‘in God’ or ‘in all these circumstances’ – i.e., ‘in the ligfht of everything we have said.’ It might also refer to the preceding promise of the last day. In that case, the verb (though stricktly in the present) would have to be understood as future: ‘on that day you will rejoice.’ The NRSV and NIV both opt for the more general understanding of this clause, and this reading seems to make clearest sense of the movement of the passage.
The Introduction suggested that the nature of the various trials is not clearly specified. First Peter is more likely addressed to churches that know local harassment than to churches that are part of any systyematic imperial persecution. The ‘little while’ reminds the Christians that they live in the time between Christ’s resurrection and his return and that the ‘last time’ of v. 6 will not be a long time coming. That is to say, the fundamental realities with which they live are with the guarantee of their redemption, stored in heaven, and the promise of their redemption soon to come to earth. The present difficulties are bracketed and made relative by the abiding promises.
Verse 7 suggests either the reason for the present difficulties or the result of those difficulties. It may be that the trials are sent in order to prove the genuinene4ss of the reader’s faith; or it may be that , however trials arise, the result is that the genuineness of the faith w3ill be proved.
The image in the verse is quiet clear. Just as gold is refined through fire, so also genuine faith is refined through suffering (cf. Ps. 66:10; Mal. 3:3) Further, genuine faith is more precious than gold, because genuine faith is imperishable, while even the most precious gold will one day perish. Notice how often the epistle suggests that the gifts of the Christian life have two qualities that set faith apart from the values of the larger world. Christian gifts are unfading and imperishable. We recall from this verse, too, that genuine faith is absolutely essential, because through faith God’s power preserves the faithful-in their faith-until the last day (v.3).
It is equally clear that this whold test is sset in an eschatological framework. The genuineness of faith (faith as genuine) will be made clear at the last day when Jesus Christ is revealed, at the end of this ‘little while’ wherein the faithful now suffer. To who praise, glory and honor will faith’s reality redound? Perhaps to the praise, glory and honor of the Christians, but most certainly to the praise, glory, and honor of God as God is revealed in Jesus Christ.