Peter wrote this letter to Christians who were enduring terrible persecutions for their faith in Jesus. Peter is supplying us with encouragement for patient and faithful endurance to support us on our journey; he is living out Jesus’ last words to him: if you love me, feed my sheep.
Peter knows the troubles that his fellow Christians are going through. This was a time of particular pain and hardship for Christians. The fiery trial is no metaphor: the Roman emperors were notorious for burning Christians alive. Even if one was not martyred, there was slander, insult, anger, and the accompanying temptations to retaliate.
Christians were God’s people, eternally his, heaven bound; they looked after one another, and their inner peace and patience infuriated the rulers. It was known that they called Jesus Lord, and chose death rather than worship of the emperor. It takes wholehearted faith to die for Christ, and it takes much the same to live in this world for him.
A life of inner peace and confident hope is Christ’s gift to Christians, always there for us. We know that Jesus is “at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Pet. 3:22). We know this truth, and sometimes we have glimpses of his glory, moments of utter peace and joy.
But the forces of the world always will be against us when we live by faith alone, for by doing so we are rejecting the world’s values, not idolizing the prevailing culture, as much an affront to the world now as not idolizing the emperor was for the Roman Christians. The moments of perfect peace in life are rare; most of the time we live by “prayer, observance, discipline, thought, and action” (T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”).
Twice in these chapters Peter makes a reference to our prayers: “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (4:7) and, to husbands, “live with your wives in an understanding way… so that your prayers may not be hindered” (3:7). It is through our prayers that we may draw upon the resources that the Holy Spirit has given us.
He gives us the ability to return blessing for reviling; he opens our hearts to honor Christ the Lord as holy; he gives us gentleness and respect. All these gifts enable us to serve one another, and thus we glorify God and draw upon the strength that God supplies. Serving one another changes pain into love, as Peter found when Jesus forgave him and turned the misery of Peter’s betrayal into the mandate to feed Christ’s sheep.
Peter reminds us that Christ truly knows the suffering of betrayal, pain, and death. It is wonderfully helpful to have someone really know and care about our lives, and Jesus does. He has not only shared our pain, he has redeemed it: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Because of Jesus our prayers are heard, and we know that God’s perfect love supplies the answers.
And so Peter gives his readers, then and now, the key to the confidence we need to endure our sufferings and, through them, to grow in faith. He desires to help us live in the same faith that he has been given: “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good” (1 Pet. 4:19).