1 Peter 1:17-23

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on April 30, 2017.

Rhetorically, 1 Peter can be organized around seven “Therefores.” They function like hinges that open a door for people discovering their identity as those reborn by the resurrection of Christ (see my previous post).

1:13- Therefore prepare to be educated like children.
2:1- Therefore rid yourselves of your habits before you were exiles.
4:1- Therefore imitate Christ’s model of suffering.
4:17- Therefore live as if you are at the end of time.
5:6- Therefore let your conduct with others in God’s flock match your conduct in society.

First Peter also redefines faith for the follower of Jesus. Six concepts are worth reintroducing (and explaining) to the church, many of which are used in the first chapter:

Exile– a person on a journey with Jesus, imitating him in life.
Resurrection– the cause of a Christian’s birth into the new age of Jesus.
Reborn or born again– the status of a believer in Christ.
Ransom– the transaction made by the blood of Jesus through Christ’s resurrection to liberate people from their indentured servitude to the old sinful ways of living.
Holiness– the condition of our lives as newborn babies in Christ, the choices we make to grow as converts, and the way God transforms us into his people.
Flock of God– the church as the pilgrim exiled community.

Verses 17-23 are the rationale for the second therefore passage (1 Peter 2:1-10). These converts need a new set of habits and attitudes. They are now strangers or exiles in a foreign land, and their old habits just simply won’t work as pilgrims. In chapter two, they will need to treat their old ways like a set of clothes they wore when they were slaves. They need to discard this behavior for the posture of a newborn infant. By feeding on the word of Christ, they can grow together into a living household of faith, built on the rock of Christ (1 Peter 2:1-5).

Before they can understand what to do to follow Christ in this new way, they need to understand from verses 17-23 who they are, where they were, and how their identity is different than anything they imagined previously. Let’s expand on the definition of an exile, a world not normally used today to describe Christians but one that helpfully frames the feelings of many disoriented churchgoers. Exiles are pilgrims on a journey with Jesus (verse 17). They are identified with the same God who called the Israelites out of Egypt and ransomed them from their enslavement to Pharaoh (The same Greek word for exile is also used in Acts 13:17 to describe the Israelites journey out of Egypt).

The church (a word that 1 Peter does not use) is now the exiled flock of God who has been ransomed from slavery to “futile ways” that came from their ancestors. It might come as a surprise to some listeners that 1 Peter treats the ancestral ways of the early Christians as tantamount to Egyptian slavery. The writer suggests that people put themselves back into bondage when we adhere to religious traditions, church customs (the way we’ve always done it) over Jesus Christ’s revelation.

Christ has been the plan from the beginning (not a plan B) and is the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. Genuine faith in Jesus cannot be coerced or inherited. It must be received and obeyed personally. These believers are now in the process of being converted out of their old way of living into a lifestyle as an exile of Christ. This process requires enculturation, education, and imitation of a new way of living.

We are now living at the “end of the ages” (verse 20). The question the community is wrestling with is one with which we are familiar. In light of this time near the end, do we withdraw as a sectarian group and live isolated lives, or do we live a differentiated existence among nonbelievers in hopes that they will see an alternative lifestyle grounded in the resurrection of Jesus? First Peter chooses the latter option. What sets us apart from society is not our worship services or even our service projects in the community. We don’t hear much about music, worship, Bible study, or programs in 1 Peter. We don’t learn about what it was like for the flock to gather for meetings. Presumably, these are the very things that lead to devotion to tradition over the resurrection of Christ.

What sets us apart as believers and continually energizes the life of the community is this word that he uses repeatedly throughout the book: our daily conduct or “way of life” in society. He mentions two examples specifically in this text that set us apart: reverence toward God and love for one another (verses 17 and 22). The way Christians serve and take care of one another in exile differentiates us from others. These are also the ways we train ourselves for good conduct with others. Now is not the time to withdraw from the world into private Christianized clubs, schools, neighborhoods, and institutions. Instead there is an opportunity to bear witness even if we encounter resistance. By living this way we align ourselves with the way of Christ and demonstrate to society how they should live.


William D. Shiell, Ph.D.
President and Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching
Northern Seminary




Tags: exile, resurrection, reborn, ransom, holiness, flock of god

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