Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 16

Originally posted February 22, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

With this lesson we reach a milestone in our study: we are finishing 1 Peter. Next week we begin 2 Peter, but for now, let’s finish Peter’s first epistle well.

Our lesson begins in the middle of Peter’s call for humility among believers.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares upon him, because he cares for you. (5:6-7)

Humility is his final word about leadership, which we covered last week, and his first word in concluding his letter. In verse 6, Peter commands us to humble ourselves, with a ‘therefore,’ pointing us back to verse 5, in which we find the reason why we should humble ourselves. Believers ought to humble themselves because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (5).

Humbling ourselves leads to leaving our anxieties in God’s hands (7), which is part and parcel of entrusting ourselves to our faithful Creator (4:19), and will ultimately lead to our being restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established by our God of all grace who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ (10). Do you see how it all flows together? This is our response to the gospel. When we understand our security in Christ, and we entrust ourselves to God, we can live humbly with one another.

“Peter uses the gospel to motivate conduct. Given the context, we realize that Peter wants believers to obey their spiritual leaders. Beyond that, Peter urges the reciprocity between all believers that lets Christian community thrive.”[1]

Peter is the perfect example of a man who has been humbled by Christ. When Jesus revealed his intention to go to the cross, Peter proudly declared that even if all the rest of the disciples abandoned him, Peter would stay by his side, even going to death with him (Luke 22:33). Yet we all know how Peter responded when the pressure was turned up. Questioned by a servant girl, he folded; in front of a courtyard full of strangers, Peter denied Jesus three times. And yet, though he failed miserably—even because he failed so miserably—Jesus was then able to restore him to his place among the disciples, confirm him as a leader of the soon-to-be-born church, strengthen him by his grace, and establish him as a shepherd of God’s flock. Because Peter understood the depths of sin of which he was capable, he was equipped to humbly serve the God of all grace.

When Peter writes in verse 6 of God’s mighty hand it reminds us of imagery in the Old Testament of the deliverance of Israel from the land of Egypt.

“By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals.” (Exodus 13:14, 15)

“has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deuteronomy 4:34)

God’s mighty hand was turned against the Egyptians and Pharaoh to smite them by his wonders, war, and great deeds of terror, while at the same time turned toward the Israelites to protect and guide them. God is a spirit, and has no physical body parts, but the anthropomorphism of his “mighty hand” speaks in vivid terms of his power in action against his enemies and on behalf of his people. So, when Peter borrows this term, and tells us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, he is encouraging us to take shelter under God’s mighty power, entrusting ourselves to his wisdom and grace.

The promised result of our humility under God’s mighty hand is that “at the proper time he will exalt you” (6b). It sounds counter-intuitive to pair humility with exaltation, but if we look at who is doing which it clears things up a bit. The pattern Peter encourages is that we humble ourselves and then, at the proper time, God will lift us up. We aren’t lifting ourselves, but humbly waiting for God to lift us. We see this in Psalm 27:5, 6, where David declares:

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

This, again, is the gospel! Daniel Doriani comments on this verse that, “to come to the Lord as he is offered in the gospel is to be humbled and exalted. We become children of God, called with a purpose, and heirs of life.”[2] We come to Christ with nothing of our own to save us, no works or righteousness or merit of our own, but humbly accepting his work on our behalf. In union with Christ, then, we are exalted by God—even now (and not yet)!

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-6)

But wait; there’s more.

In the same breath with which Peter has told us to humble ourselves before our merciful God who will exalt us at the proper time, he tells us next: “casting all your anxieties on him…” (7). [*evidently some translations separate these thoughts into different sentences. The translators of the ESV put them into one sentence.] Casting our anxieties upon God, then, is an act of humility; the behavior of a trusting child to his loving parent. Simon Kistemaker writes:

“In true humility and trust in God, the Christian throws all his anxieties on the Lord. The Greek word for “anxiety” means “to be drawn in different directions” [Can anybody relate? Hello?] Anxiety has a debilitating effect on our lives and results in a loss of confidence and assurance. If we doubt, we assume the burden of worries and thus demonstrate a lack of faith.”[3]

Casting our anxieties on God shows that we believe him to be our wise and powerful sovereign, rich in mercy, who knows what is best for us and is best able to gain that best for us. The word translated “casting” in verse 7 is the same word used in the gospels when the disciples tossed their robes onto the back of the donkey which Jesus rode into Jerusalem for his triumphal entry. To cast is a deliberate act, requiring effort, to fling something away from ourselves. To cast our anxieties onto God requires a deliberate effort of faith. God, under whose mighty hand we take refuge, can deal with our worries and fears. This is the God, remember, by whose power we are guarded through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1:5).

When we hold tightly to our anxieties we are saying that we believe we have control over them, that we can manage just fine on our own. When we don’t cast our anxieties upon God, we are forgetting that we are dependent creatures and that he is the one who meets our needs. As Jesus tenderly taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:25-32)

As Jesus taught him, Peter here reiterates: we can cast our anxieties upon God “because he cares for you” (7b). And how do we cast our cares upon our loving, caring Father? By prayer.

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:5b-7)

Sisters, take a moment and ask the Lord to reveal where you may be holding tightly to cares and anxieties, worries and fears, which he is ready, willing, and able to take from you. Pray knowing that Jesus prays with you and that this is a prayer which the Lord delights to answer! Those fears which dwell deeply in your hearts may not let go easily, so keep returning to the Father with your supplications, thanking him for his mercy and power to care for you, and asking him to bathe your hearts and minds in his peace. Entrust your souls to your faithful Creator.

We now turn to verses 8-9, and Peter’s warning for believers.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (8-9)

Some of the ways in which the devil seeks to “devour” believers are through temptations aimed at our own weak flesh:

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Another way the devil seeks to devour believers is through twisting the true teaching of the Word:

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)

Peter is addressing both sorts of attacks when he exhorts us to be sober-minded and watchful, also translated as self-controlled and alert. Simon Kistemaker sheds light on how these pertain to our preparation to defend against our prowling enemy:

“Self-control is man’s ability to look at reality with a clear mind, and alertness is a state of watchfulness and readiness. The first characteristic describes a person who controls his own disposition, while the second discloses his readiness to respond to outside influences. A Christian must always be on guard against both internal and external forces that are bent on destroying him. These forces originate in man’s chief adversary, Satan.”[4]

So, we stay watchful, with a sober-minded focus, resisting the devil while standing firm in our faith. The way Peter is using “faith” here also deserves a closer look. There are some whose personal faith and trust in the Lord is strong, having matured through years of service and testing by trials. There are others whose personal faith and trust in the Lord is weak, either because it is newly born and as-yet untested by trials, or is malnourished by an insufficient diet of the means of grace. Peter, fortunately, does not seem to be talking about faith in this subjective sense.

Peter seems to mean “faith” in an objective sense in this passage. The Faith, as in the body of doctrine and teachings about God as taught in the holy Scriptures and believed by the Church worldwide. This is what Jude meant when he wrote (curiously enough, about contending against false teachers): “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). The traditions taught by the apostle by spoken word and letter are the faith that is taught by what we now have in our Bibles. This very faith is one of our weapons in our battle against the devil, as Peter says that standing firm in the faith is a means by which we resist him. Paul writes at length about other weapons which we have been given in Ephesians 6: 10-18, in which he details with vivid imagery the “whole armor of God”: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. [For more on the Armor of God in Ephesians 6, see this post which I wrote when we studied through Ephesians last year.}

Peter closes his exhortation to resist the devil with encouragement that we are not suffering alone. When he writes “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (9), we can take heart in knowing that the suffering we experience is not unusual to Christians, that we are part of a body of believers worldwide who are also suffering—and enduring—for the sake of Christ. And if we do not suffer persecution for our faith where we are, others of our brotherhood are suffering even still. If one part of the body suffers, we all should feel the pain. So, let’s stay aware of what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the many danger zones around the world, praying for them, bringing them before our mighty God who cares for them, pleading for them to be strengthened in their faith, and for God’s will to be done.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever. Amen.” (10-11)

And now, Peter encourages us with precious words of our sure hope in Christ. He draws upon God’s grace, which, as he here writes, has already called us to glory. Peter is as sure of this as Paul was when he wrote to the Philippian church, saying, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). And whether along the way, or when we finally arrive, Peter writes that God himself will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us. Sisters, this is a secure promise. As Doriani confirms, “The outcome of our life rests more on God’s power and grace than on our labors.”[5] He is “the God of all grace,” to whom belongs “dominion forever and ever,” so we may safely entrust our souls to him.

And as Peter reminded us in the beginning of his epistle (1:6), any suffering we are called to endure in this life is only for a little while in the scope of eternity. Paul weighs the contrast for us when he writes, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). No matter what our suffering, though the road is long, it will all come to an end when we reach his eternal glory.

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. (12-14a)

Finally, Peter concludes his letter with a nod to Silvanus (or, Silas, depending on your translation) who was a faithful companion to the apostles, is found throughout much of the book of Acts, may have helped Peter write this epistle, and almost surely delivered it. He also mentions Mark, who was such a dear friend that he considered him as a son. Mark’s gospel is considered to be written according to what he learned (in human terms) from Peter—while, of course, being inspired by the Holy Spirit. When Peter mentions “She who is at Babylon,” he may be speaking in code of the church at Rome, in an attempt to shield the believers there from further persecution.

In verse 12 Peter tells us his purpose for writing this letter. “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” (Do you see the title of our study?!) Referring to the entire letter, “the ‘true grace’ began with God’s election, moved to Jesus’ atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and closed with God’s promise of eternal glory in Christ. The gospel is true, and trust in Jesus is trust in the living God. Jesus is no mere man; the gospel is no mere story. It is the truth about the eternal and gracious God. None of this is in doubt, but humans are fickle, so Peter commands his people to ‘stand firm.’”[6]

Until next week.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

[1] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 222.

[2] Ibid., 226.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 199.

[4] Ibid., 201.

[5] Doriani, 233.

[6] Ibid., 235.

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