Sunday, October 01, 2006

An Encouraging Greeting

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. ~1 Peter 1:1-2

Peter identifies himself and he identifies the recipients of his letter. He is an apostle of Jesus Christ. In identifying his readers, Peter uses multiple synonymous phrases. In so doing, he gives definition to God’s elect. God’s elect are a) strangers in the world and b) chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

But Peter also says that his recipients are scattered throughout [regions of what is now Turkey]. But if this is intended to be definitive, Peter must believe God’s elect reside nowhere else in the world. This seems highly unlikely. So in naming the places his recipients live, he must have another purpose. Perhaps the point is not that the elect live only in these regions, but quite the opposite: the elect are scattered and may be found anywhere, but are placed broadly and mixed in with the world. Perhaps alternatively, while the elect can be found beyond the regions mentioned, Peter expects only the elect in these regions to receive his letter.

In all three of these definitions, we are encouraged. First, calling us strangers in the world, Peter prepares us for his exhortation to holiness. But we are also reminded why we are strangers: we are God’s elect.

Second, while we may feel isolated and alone, we are not. There are many like us, though we may be spread thinly among the pagans.

Third, we have been chosen by God. Therefore, his hand is at work in us and around us, for surely he would not abandon what he has claimed as his own.

Peter also tells us for what purpose we were chosen, which encourages us further because it is a grand purpose that can only be fulfilled by God’s hand. We know then that he must be with us in order to see it to completion.

This purpose is twofold. First, we are chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ. Second, we are chosen for sprinkling by his blood. God’s choice is not made through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, but this is how the purpose of obedience is fulfilled. These purposes are not only an encouragement, but a call. We not only must strive for obedience and holiness (sprinkled by his blood), but also we are able to achieve it because of God’s choice and the work of the Spirit.

To close his greeting, Peter blesses us with abundant grace and peace. Grace may be in demand all the more when there is no peace, as in times of suffering detailed later in Peter's letter. But, Peter wishes us peace as well. Not only so, but he blesses us with both and in abundance so that, whether or not in times of suffering, we have each overflowing and overlapping.

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