The Apostle Peter Speaks to You
IT IS not easy today to be a Christian. There are many pressures. In some lands the State tries to force us to do things that are against a Christian conscience. Many Christian wives have husbands who are not believers. Young people are attracted by the glitter and “wisdom” of the world. And, after several decades of waiting, some might even be wondering: ‘Will Armageddon ever come?’
If you face problems like these—and what Christian does not?—the two letters in the Bible written by the apostle Peter speak directly to you. Peter wrote to congregations in his day probably a little more than 30 years after the death of Jesus. But the problems Christians face have not changed much over the centuries. The counsel Peter gave is as valid now as it was then. And he was well qualified to give such counsel.
A Qualified Shepherd
From reading the Gospel accounts and the book of Acts, we learn a lot about the fisherman from Galilee who became the apostle Peter. He appears heartwarmingly human. There was never any doubt about his loyalty to Jesus, but he was impulsive and sometimes made mistakes. Perhaps we can recognize something of ourselves in Peter in some of his misadventures.
For example, remember Peter’s reaction when he saw Jesus walking on the water. He excitedly wanted to walk on water too. But when he realized where he was he got scared and had to be rescued. Remember, too, the time when Peter stoutheartedly insisted that he would never be stumbled. But a few hours later he denied Jesus three times.—Matthew 14:23-34; 26:33, 34, 69-75.
However, the writer of these two canonical letters had changed since he was at the receiving end of Jesus’ stern words: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” (Matthew 16:23) This is the apostle who was given the commission by Jesus: “Feed my little sheep.” (John 21:17) In Peter’s letters we meet a man who has been tempered by more than 30 years’ experience in ‘feeding the sheep.’
Thus when we read his admonition, “Love one another intensely from the heart,” we may recall that this was the apostle who asked Jesus: ‘How many times must I forgive my brother? Up to seven times?’ By now, Peter knows that there is no limit to the love that Christians show one another. (1 Peter 1:22; Matthew 18:21) And when he urged his fellow Christians to stay “vigilant with a view to prayers,” we see that he has learned a powerful lesson since that terrible night in Gethsemane when Jesus left the apostles praying and came back to find them asleep.—1 Peter 4:7; Luke 22:39-46.
Yes, the fisherman from Galilee had become a well-qualified shepherd. And, inspired by holy spirit, his shepherding is as valuable in our day as it was in his. Consider some of his advice.
Appreciate the Faith
In the first century the Judeo-Roman world was glittering and powerful. It was important for Christians not to be seduced by the world’s splendor or bullied into quitting by its pressures. So Peter begins by exhorting his readers to ‘brace up their minds for activity, keep their senses completely.’ (1 Peter 1:13) How? By having a lively appreciation of the privileges they enjoyed.
Peter reminded them that the prophets of old and even the angels were intensely interested in the things God had revealed to Christians. He showed how very blessed they were: having been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, born with incorruptible seed by means of God’s everlasting Word and formed into “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.” (1 Peter 2:9) They should remember who they were: alien residents in an ungodly world—persons enjoying the great mercy of Jehovah God.
Today, that ancient world is just a memory. But we still live in an ungodly world that allures us by its temptations or distracts us by its pressures. Peter’s counsel is still valid. We should never lose sight of what we have. To avoid being overwhelmed by the cynicism and secularism of today’s world, we must ‘form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it we may grow to salvation.’—1 Peter 2:2.
Rejoicing Despite Problems
Our living in an ungodly world often raises problems, as it did in Peter’s day. Three situations that he mentions are (1) a Christian’s responsibility toward the State, (2) a Christian house servant’s relationship with his master and (3) a Christian wife’s submissively helping an unbelieving husband.
Back there, such questions were matters of life and death. Rulers often had authority to torture or execute non-Roman citizens. House slaves had little recourse if they were treated cruelly by their owners. Wives were the property of their husbands, with few legal rights.
Today, Christians still have difficulties in their dealings with “Caesar” or their employers, even though the situation does not parallel exactly the master/slave relationship. And many Christian women with unbelieving husbands face big problems. Thus the apostle Peter’s counsel is invaluable. What does he say?
In brief, he advises us to remember three things. First, we need a proper view of subjection—all should be subject to the government, employees should obey their employers and wives should respect and obey their husbands. Then, the way we behave should show unbelievers that Christianity is the best way of life. (1 Peter 3:1; 4:15) Finally, we should keep a good conscience before Jehovah God, always being ready to explain in a mild way the reason for our actions.—1 Peter 3:15, 16.
Will this solve all our problems? Peter knew it would not. There come times when the world makes demands that a Christian cannot accept. Hence, we may have to suffer for righteousness’ sake. But, says Peter, “if someone, because of conscience toward God, bears up under grievous things and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing.”—1 Peter 2:19.
In fact, suffering for righteousness, when viewed properly, is a cause for rejoicing. Peter knew this from firsthand experience. Many years earlier he had been flogged for his faith. Afterward, he and his fellow sufferers “went their way . . . rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Acts 5:41) Hence, he now writes to Christians suffering persecution: “Go on rejoicing forasmuch as you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ.”—1 Peter 4:12, 13.
Peter told the brothers that, really, they were being trained by Jehovah. He said: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” He told them to love one another, and that the elders should shepherd the congregations with right motives. And soon, he promised, “the God of all undeserved kindness . . . will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong.”—1 Peter 5:1-3, 6, 10.
Is not this counsel just as timely now as it was then? Is it not as if Peter were speaking directly to you? Imagine how it strengthened the Christians back in Peter’s day. But soon the aging apostle had to write a second letter to warn of a sinister threat to his brothers.
Meeting a Sinister Threat
In this second letter Peter says that his need to warn his fellow Christians is more urgent because he does not have much longer to live. He lists the qualities that Christians must develop in order to stay strong and speaks of forces that will appear within the congregation to weaken them.—2 Peter 1:5-8, 14, 16.
“There will also be false teachers among you,” he warns. (2 Peter 2:1, 2) These false teachers would promote loose conduct and be skilled in using “counterfeit words.” But they would forget one vital point: “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial, but to reserve unrighteous people for the day of judgment to be cut off.” (2 Peter 2:3, 9) They might flourish for a while, but their judgment was certain.
Others would mockingly say: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” These, too, would conveniently forget that Jehovah’s time is not as our time. And he is patient. But just as surely as the end came in Noah’s day, so the end of this system will come.—2 Peter 3:4-10.
Finally, even in Peter’s day some within the congregation were ‘twisting the Scriptures.’ But this would be to their own destruction.—2 Peter 3:16.
In view of these threats, Peter wanted to ‘arouse the clear thinking faculties’ of the brothers. (2 Peter 3:1) They should not forget the historic proofs that Jehovah is able to destroy the wicked and save the righteous, and they should keep “close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.” (2 Peter 3:12) That day is real. It is coming. This fact should affect everything they do or plan to do.—2 Peter 1:19-21.
Since we are living so close to that day, Peter’s urging takes on an added force: “Do your utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace.” (2 Peter 3:14) Truly, those words apply to us. The apostle Peter is speaking to everyone whose hope lies in Jehovah’s promised “new heavens and a new earth.” Hence, his final exhortation comes sounding down through the centuries with all the strength of his apostolic authority: “Be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness. No, but go on growing in the undeserved kindness and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—2 Peter 3:13, 17, 18.