Chapter 4

The Distinction God Wants For Us

As Peter dictated his letter to encourage persecuted, displaced followers of Christ, he understood what they were enduring (1:6). Although the future for his readers was bright, the present was dark and difficult. He knew that their problems were causing them to be impoverished and feel abandoned by God, even though God Himself was at work in all of these circumstances.

But what was God doing? Why would He do so much for His people while at the same time allow so much distress and disappointment? Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter knew what his readers needed to hear. God wanted the best for those who were in Christ. He wanted His people to know Him, the eternal God. He wanted them to know the incomparable experience of embracing what is not temporary. God wanted His people to find comfort and peace and joy in knowing Him. He wanted His people to discover something far more valuable than “gold which perishes” (1:7).

God wanted them to know the incomparable experience of embracing what is not temporary.

The problems Peter’s readers had—the “various trials” which “for a little while” troubled them—were actually a part of God’s solution. They were His way of leading them to a purified faith that is more valuable than gold (1:7).

Peter wanted his readers to know God’s goodness, so he urged them to separate themselves from anything that would keep them from experiencing God’s best. Without apology, Peter asked his readers to give themselves wholeheartedly to God Himself. This is what Peter meant when he asked Silas to write:

Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:13-16).

Today’s readers are apt to misunderstand what Peter meant by “holy living.” Some suppose that when Peter called repeatedly for “holiness” of life that he was expecting perfection. That’s not what Peter had in view. The Greek word translated “holy” in 1 Peter 1:15-16 means “set apart” for a specific use and purpose.

Great harm has been done to the concept of holiness by those who confuse it with self-righteous arrogance.

Others think that to be “holy” means to be a religious fanatic set apart from the “unclean” masses. Great harm has been done to the concept of holiness by those who confuse it with self-righteous arrogance.

Remember that Jesus, the most holy person of all, was called a “friend of sinners.” No one took more heat from arrogant religionists. No one was less pretentious. No one showed more love, more mercy, more compassion.

Peter repeatedly urged readers to embrace faith in a way that would distinguish them as the people of God, to show the world, even in the middle of all their troubles, that the new life they had found was far better than the life they had inherited from their fathers. Peter then listed several ways to do this. In the process, Peter also gave us timeless principles that can help us check up on our own faith and test our relationship to God. The kind of “holy distinction” God wants for us involves habits of the heart that make life worth living.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” —Jesus

A Family Love (1:22–2:1; 3:8-12). One distinguishing mark of those God has “set apart” for Himself is authentic love for one another. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1:22).

Peter learned this kind of family love from Jesus Himself. At the Last Supper, just after Jesus had washed His disciples’ feet and just before He performed the greatest act of love ever known, He said this to His disciples: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Peter hadn’t forgotten those words. He probably replayed that moment a thousand times in his mind. Jesus had urged His disciples to show their relationship to Him by loving one another. That same night the disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. A few hours later, Judas betrayed Jesus, the disciples scattered to protect themselves, and Peter repeatedly denied that he was one of Jesus’ followers.

Loving fellow believers is so important that Peter mentioned it again: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil, or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (3:8-9).

Peter’s instruction to love brothers and sisters who hurt us is important. His reminder to not repay evil with evil or insult with insult can help us avoid unrealistic expectations. We ex pect hostility from enemies, but not from fellow believers! Yet, once again, Peter understood human weakness. Over time, brothers and sisters will disrespect and insult one another. So God does not ask us to love only those who are always considerate, but to love one another as He loved us— in all of our own failure and foolishness. We are to show the watching world that we are a family shaped not by our own self-centered “love,” but by the true love we have learned from our Father in heaven.

A Spiritual Thirst (2:2-3). To know God, we need to communicate with Him in prayer and to listen carefully and thoughtfully to what He has said. To hear God, we need attitudes that won’t block out what He is saying. So Peter wrote that we should lay aside “all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (2:1-3).

The answer to the fears of those being persecuted would not be found in natural human instincts for self-protection. The solution to their problems was not to hate their persecutors, to envy those in better circumstances, or to lie in order to survive (as Peter had done when he denied the Lord). The answer to their dilemma was to crave to hear God speak through His Word, the way babies crave their mother’s milk.

The word picture of babies crying for nourishment tells us a lot about what God wants for us. Nursing infants are not satisfied very long with one feeding. As regular as a clock, they cry again and again to be fed. Hunger is not a pleasant experience, but it is good because it drives a baby to cry for its mother.

Believers need God’s Word as much and as often as a baby needs its mother’s milk, for it is the source of all that is infinite, eternal, and good.

Believers need God’s Word as much and as often as a baby needs its mother’s milk, for it is the source of all that is infinite, eternal, and good. The Word of God reminds us that God is with us in all circumstances: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:6).

Peter pointed his readers back to the Word of God because of its permanence: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands for ever” (1 Pet. 1:24-25).

An Enlightened Submission (2:11-18). Even in the unfair circumstances of the first century, Peter encouraged believers to submit “for the Lord’s sake” (v.13) and “as servants of God” (v.16). In a day when the Roman Caesar was worshiped as a god, and when economic slavery was a way of life for many followers of Christ, Peter called for submission to authorities in government (vv.13-14) and in the workplace as well (v.18). He reasoned that submission is proper even when the authorities are harsh and unkind (vv.18-20).

From other parts of the New Testament, we learn that our submission is not to be passive or mindless. The early apostles showed that there is a time to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) and it is when authorities tell us to disobey God, or when we do not have an opportunity to legitimately improve our circumstances (1 Cor. 7:21). Peter reminded his readers to make certain that any punishment they received was for doing good not evil. He didn’t want them causing trouble by failing to respect or love someone. He wanted them to do everything possible to put the gospel of Christ in a good light (2:11-12,15).

An Admirable Endurance (2:18-20; 3:13-17). The natural respon se to unfair treatment is resentment and retaliation, but Peter wrote that the follower of Christ “bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (v.19). To endure “deserved” punishment merits no praise: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (v.20). By doing this we follow the example set by Jesus (vv.21-23).

To a persecuted people strengthened by God, Peter said, “Do not fear what they fear [the things they are threatening to do to you]; do not be frightened.” Instead, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (3:14-15).

The implication of Peter’s loving counsel is that if we are distinguishing ourselves as the Lord’s people, we will be asked about our faith. We need to be ready to speak, but without forcing ourselves on listeners who would rather not hear. If we speak belligerently or hatefully when we are mistreated, we do more harm than good.

A Healthy Home (3:1-7). The distinction of a “set apart” people needs to be evident at home. If we fail to be Christlike within our own families, we will lose other opportunities for good and for God outside of our families as well.

If we fail to be Christlike within our own families, we will lose other opportunities for good and for God.

With a concern not only for families but also for the reputation of Christ, Peter first addressed wives, telling them to be submissive to their husbands, encouraging them to give more attention to their attitudes than to their attire, and giving the biblical example of Sarah’s relationship with Abraham as a model (3:1-6) (who, interestingly, was not always submissive).

Why did Peter lay this burden on women? Weren’t wives going through enough trouble outside of the home without being subjected to unreasonable pressure from their husbands? Couldn’t he have appealed to the principles of Christ to lift the burden of these wives?

Let’s take a closer look: (1) Peter was addressing women in a society that did not give women equal status with men. (2) He had a special concern for Christian women whose husbands did not yet believe. (3) He was not being critical of external appearance, but was encouraging followers of Christ to give more attention to their hearts than to their attire. (4) The relationship of Abraham and Sarah was as complex as any marriage. On one occasion Abraham actually followed Sarah’s lead. (5) The fear to which the wife was not to succumb—“do not give way to fear”—was probably the fear instilled by the pagan husband who pressures her to revert to paganism and emperor worship.

Submission is a loving, purposeful, enlightened submission. It is not a blind, passive attitude that cowers without character or reason.

We can be sure that the “submission” Peter asked for is a loving, purposeful, enlightened submission. It is not a blind, passive attitude that cowers without character or reason.

Peter’s words to husbands, though more brief, were just as comprehensive and challenging (3:7): (1) The husband, aware of the emotional and physical differences between men and women, is to be “considerate,” going the extra mile to make his wife’s life as pleasant as possible. (2) He is to treat his wife with “respect,” viewing her as an equal heir of a relationship with God. (3) The husband, according to Peter, also needs to realize that his relationship with God depends on how he treats his wife (3:7). If he is inconsiderate and disrespectful, the wrongs he inflicts on his wife will come between his prayers and God.

An Eternal Perspective (4:1-19). God also wants His people to distinguish themselves with an eternal perspective. So Peter wrote, “Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (4:19).

Believers, therefore, are people who see their present troubles against the backdrop of the future.

• They see themselves as objects of grace and destined for glory. They realize that the unbelievers who are angry with them will one day be judged for their sins. Then the tables will be turned (vv.5-6).

• They see the approaching “end of all things” and live with it in mind. Therefore, they are “clear minded,” making wise decisions that will prepare them for their meeting with Christ (v.7).

• They see that suffering with Christ now will enhance their joy when they share His glory (v.13 ).

• They see that suffering innocently for Christ’s sake will bring on them “the Spirit of glory and of God,” a foretaste of what awaits them (vv.14- 16).

• They know that suffering now is a means by which God gives His people a chance to distinguish themselves as the people of Christ.

A Unifying Relationship (5:1-11). People “set apart” for God have a sense of oneness with all who share a relationship with God through Christ.

Peter placed upon spiritual leaders a great deal of responsibility to promote this sense of oneness (vv.1- 4). He addressed the church leaders and told them how they were to fulfill their role as “shepherds” and “overseers”: (1) “not because you must, but because you are willing”; (2) “not greedy for money, but eager to serve”; (3) “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” The meaning of each charge is so clear that no explanation is needed. By referring to himself as a “fellow elder” instead of reminding them of his apostolic authority, Peter practiced the “oneness&rdqu o; he preached.

Believers are people who see their present troubles against the backdrop of the future.

Then before taking the pen from Silas (5:12) to sign the letter and write closing words of affection, Peter made one last effort to encourage the kind of unity that would enable his readers to grow in their knowledge of God. As one who had learned so much the hard way, Peter assured his troubled readers that by caring for one another they could entrust themselves and their final well-being to the Eternal One, who had in so many ways proven His love for them.

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast (1 Pet. 5:5-10).


• In God’s call for a life of distinction, we see that He wants us to follow His example in Christ.

• In God’s requirement of a self-sacrificing love, we see a reflection of His own loving character.

• In God’s encouragement to hunger for His Word, we see the importance He puts on truth, which has its source in Him.

• In God’s principle of submission, we see His willingness to assure the ultimate well-being of those who entrust themselves to Him.

SEEING OURSELVES • In God’s call to distinction, we see our own inclination to follow the crowd.

• In God’s appeal for love, we see our own tendency to care only for ourselves.

• In God’s encouragement to have an eternal perspective, we see our inclination to be blinded by the fog of present circumstances.

• In God’s call to humility, we see our own tendency to proudly rely on ourselves rather than on Him.