The letter of 1 Peter was written to Christians who were facing persecution in life. They faced economic, social, and physical suffering because of their faith. In his letter, Peter has encouraged them, and us, to hang on in the difficult times in the realization that the hard times are the very things God uses to refine us and use us for His Kingdom. These trials give us a platform for demonstrating and declaring our faith. He has challenged us to view suffering as a unique way of identifying with Christ and to be faithful or holy in our walk with God and in our dealing with others.
We have been summoned to trust and rest in the Lord while at the same time being diligent and disciplined in our lives. We are to work hard not in order to save ourselves, but to stay close to the Lord of life who is our refuge, strength, and joy.
In the last verses of 1 Peter we are given several final directives.
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Stay Under Control
The first thing we are to be “self-controlled” or perhaps the better translation is “sober-minded”. It is a term used 3 times in this letter (1:13, 4:7 and 5:8). The word means to be well-balanced and clear-headed.
Sometimes at a school or community event Police will do a demonstration to show the danger of drinking and driving. The demonstrations show that a person who has had several drinks loses their sense of clarity and their reaction time is severely compromised. The person behind the wheel who has had several drinks is a danger to themselves and to others. People who are no longer sober say things they shouldn’t say, do things that are inappropriate, and open themselves up to temptation. All the while believing they are in complete control and acting appropriately.
To be sober-minded is the opposite of being compromised by alcohol. A sober-minded person is attentive, focused, and alert. Think about a soldier who is on guard duty on the battlefield. This solider scans the darkness, listens carefully, and is ready to respond.
Peter knew how easy it was to become distracted. When Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am? Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and Peter went to the head of the class. Shortly thereafter Jesus began to tell the disciples about how he was going to be betrayed, delivered to the officials, and killed. Peter (perhaps now brimming with confidence) rebuked Jesus saying, “Never, Lord”. Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan”.
When Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water Peter challenged Jesus to invite him to also walk on the water. To Peter’s credit, he stepped out of the boat and walked on water . . . until he saw the waves! He lost his focus that quickly.
When Jesus was in the garden he asked his disciples to pray with him. They fell asleep and Jesus asked, “Couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?” Peter boldly and faithfully followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest when Jesus was arrested. However when he was surprised by the questions of a servant girl, he denied knowing Jesus.
What accounts for such fickleness and inconsistency? Peter says it is partially the enemy who is trying to trip us up at every opportunity. He is the Devil. He is wants to destroy us and will use any means to do so.
There are things we need to know about the Devil. First, we need to realize that the Devil is real. Christians often make one of two mistakes. First, they discount the Devil all-together. They see him as a red-suited being with horns and a pitchfork. They conclude that the idea of a supernatural adversary is the thing of superstition rather than reality. The Devil loves such people.
Second, there are those who see the Devil as omnipresent. They see him everywhere. They believe there is a demon of flat-tires, of cigarette smoking, of excessive drinking, of greed. The Devil loves these people also. They are so paranoid the Devil doesn’t need to waste much time on them. These people are quick to blame the Devil for anything that goes wrong rather than taking responsibility for their own lives or they are too paralyzed by fear to do anything useful.
Second we need to realize that the Devil is a formidable enemy. There is a scene in the mini-series Pacific where a group of recruits were boasting about all the Japanese they were going to kill. They were laughing and carrying on when the Sergeant came in. He stopped them and told them that if they did not respect the fact that they were engaging veteran, well-trained, resourceful, skilled, and determined foes, they would be sent home in a body bag.
The same is true of Satan. We must respect Him as an enemy. The Bible indicates that when Satan (formerly an angel) rebelled against God, he took with him 1/3 of the angels (who became demons). His goal is simple: He wants us to turn away from the Lord of life to serve him.
According to the Bible the Devil and his army can harden hearts, cause physical affliction, and lead people to do violent and destructive things. The Devil often engages in what we might call “guerilla warfare”. He will sneak up on us and tempt us in subtle ways. He will tempt us with power, popularity, pleasure and financial gain. He will whisper that “we have a right to be happy” or “we won’t really be hurting anyone”. He will convince us that we can “stop anytime we want”. In hard times He will tell us that if God really loved us, bad things would never happen in our lives (even though many of these bad things are brought about by Satan himself!)
Satan uses false teachers, half-truths, “creative interpretations”, rationalizations and intimidation by professors to turn us away from the Lord. He knows that getting us to believe a lie is the first step to leading us to destruction. Satan is ruthless.
- He attacks the sick, weak and isolated. He will tell them that God has abandoned them.
- He will attack new believers by filling them with doubts and trying to seduce them with false teaching, using their immaturity against them.
- He will attack those who drift away from the church. He will quickly occupy them with other things and surround them with people who will lead them away from God instead of to Him. If you can separate a soldier from his unit you are more likely to be able to defeat him.
- He will attack the fearful. He will use the fear of disease, economic hardship, death and anything else to get us to pull away from God and focus on the dangerous “waves” around us rather than the consistent faithfulness of our God.
- He will encourage us to “make our own way”, “rely on our ability” or to trust in our own good deeds. He will help us “feel” spiritual if it will lead us to rely on our ability instead of His redemptive grace.
- He will surround us with pleasurable things so that we feel that we no longer need the Lord. He will then turn this sense of pleasurable satisfaction into an addiction so that we are continually pursuing the next “high” or thing that will “make us happy.”
Satan can’t destroy a genuine believer (because as believers we have the Holy Spirit in us as a “seal which guarantees our inheritance” Eph. 1:13-14). However the Devil and his army can and will set out to destroy our testimony and rob us of peace and joy. If he can get us to compromise “just a little” he can do irreparable damage to our effectiveness and enjoyment.
C.S. Lewis in his marvelous book The Screwtape Letters shares the advice of a Senior Demon with a junior tempter. He writes,
Like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [who is God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is not better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Satan will attempt to turn you gradually away from the truth. He hopes to do it so gradually that you don’t even notice. We must be on guard! We must avoid tempting situations and make sure our relationship with the Father remains solid and growing. We must constantly be on guard against subtle compromises that, like a loose string on a garment, have the power to unravel everything!
Peter gives us bold counsel
9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith,
James gives us the same advice, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.”(James 4:7) In 1 John 4:4 we are reminded, “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.” The Holy Spirit is more powerful than the Devil! As long as we stand in His power the Devil is powerless against us.
In Ephesians 6 the apostle Paul gives us wise counsel. Let me read it in the New Living Translation,
13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
We would think it foolish for a football player to go out on the field without some of their pads, helmet or chin strap, or shoes! Being unprotected exposes them to a greater risk of injury.
As believers we need to wear ALL the pieces of the armor.
- We need to read the Bible and pray
- We must do what it says (living in righteousness)
- We need to be sure that we are trusting Christ for salvation and not our own efforts (helmet of salvation),
- We must pursue the truth rather than popular opinion
- We must put our trust in God rather than our emotions and desires (shield of faith).
- And we need to choose the peace that comes from resting in God rather than the endless churning of the world (sandals of peace).
Satan is powerful but God is ALL-powerful. Satan will battle fiercely. But the victory has been won. Satan was defeated at the cross and the empty tomb. As long as we stay under the shadow of His wings, Satan cannot touch us.
As I was going to a large public High School in Chicago I tried to keep my head down and hang around with people who could intimidate those who might seek to do me harm. I knew that my safety depended on staying close to these friends. I knew that if I became arrogant, thinking that I was powerful and intimidating by myself, there would be people ready to show me how foolish I was!
Our strength is in HIM. Our ability to resist the Devil is directly related to how closely we stay to the Lord of Life.
Peter encourages us to stand tall and firm in the midst of temptation and the time of trials. He tells us to remember two things. First,
you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
In the hard times of life it is common to feel all alone. You may feel singled out. You may ask “Why is God picking on me?” or “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” But the truth is that we are NOT alone in the time of trial. At any given time there are people who have it better than we do, and there are millions of people who struggle in ways much worse than what we have been asked to endure. Trials do not mean God has turned His back; on the contrary these may be the times he is most near.
Struggle is part of life. When Paul and Barnabas visited the new believers they told them “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). The road of discipleship contains minefields. Some may be devastating, and we must prepare ourselves for this reality. Part of that preparation is to realize the struggle is the way we develop the muscles of faith.
Second, Peter reminds us,
10 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. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Peter wants us to remember that when we endure, we will find that the Lord will restore us, strengthen us, and establish (or anchor) us. We can count on it. We know how the story ends! The Lord wins and so will we, if we are in Him.
There are times when I will watch a replay of a big game on television. When I originally watched the game I may have been tense and filled with a sense of anxiety as the score went back and forth. However, I don’t feel that way when I watch the replay. Why? Because I know how it ends. As we face trials in this life we don’t need to be afraid because we know how it ends.
Eugene Peterson in the Message paraphrases our text this way
Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.
Peter concludes this first letter the way many of us wrap up our letters, with a bunch of miscellaneous things,
12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Peter sent greetings from Silas and Mark. Silas (or Silvanus) may have served as Peter’s secretary as he dictated the letter and may have been the messenger who delivered the letter. Mark was another friend in ministry. Most believe that Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark based on what he learned from Peter.
There are greetings from “She who is in Babylon”. The name Babylon became an idiom standing for the focus of secular power and wickedness. Most likely Peter was referring to Rome. He was saying the Christians in the church at Rome sent their greetings.
Peter concludes by telling them to do two things: Stand fast in the grace of God. This is really the message of the entire letter. Our job is to tenaciously hold on to the truth even though times may be rough.
Second, he tells them to greet one another with a kiss of love. In the Middle East this is still a common way to greet people. Usually the men greet men and the woman greet woman with a kiss on both cheeks. If Peter was writing to us he might say, give each other a hug or extend a warm handshake to each other.
Peter recognized that one of the chief sources of strength in the time of trial is our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to foster and develop our relationships with each other. We should look forward to being together and greet each other warmly. We are family and should cherish that relationship.
Peter concludes praying that the believers might know peace even in the times of churning. Biblical peace is not so much an absence of conflict; it is a steady confidence that is deep inside of us. It is a sense of security that is derived from our relationship with Christ. It comes from our confidence in the character, sovereignty and love of God. If we embrace this peace, we will have understood the message of 1 Peter, and will able to weather any of the storms that life may send our way.