Loving Gospel Partnership

1 Peter 5:10-14

A.A. Milne wrote the stories we know as The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as an attempt to restore happiness and innocence to a next generation of people who had survived the disappointments and horrors of WWI. In these stories, two characters – with a supporting cast of various other lovable critters with distinct personalities – enjoy a variety of experiences together. The first character was a 9-year-old boy named Christopher Robin and the other a plump, yellow stuffed bear, Winnie the Pooh. Early on, Milne writes:

Christopher Robin was sitting outside his door, putting on his Big Boots. As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen […] (A.A. Milne)

That’s when the friendship between Pooh and Christopher Robin was formed, and what a series of adventures they did have together!

When you were clearly and formally introduced to Jesus Christ and chose to repent of your sinfulness and trust in him as God and Savior, a wonderful relationship began – but did you realize that an adventure was about to begin? Did you realize that you had entered into a partnership that would last forever, a partnership not only with God himself but with other people who also follow Christ?

Main Thought: Following Christ through suffering requires close reliance upon God and one another.

We can call this close reliance ‘partnership’ or ‘friendship,’ for so it is. As Christ himself said to his first twelve disciples, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15). And to follow Christ through suffering requires that we treat him as a friend, someone upon whom we can closely and completely rely when trouble comes our way.

In 2018, health insurance company, Cigna, conducted research indicating that most Americans felt “lonely, left out, and not known.” This resembled other reports indicating the increasing isolation among Americans, including some studies by Barna research. Now, keep in mind that this was before the COVID pandemic lockdowns and government-mandated isolation orders.
According to Barna’s research, Americans are friendly but lonely. The majority of adults have between two and five close friends (62%), but one in five regularly or often feels lonely. It is also fascinating to know that the research indicated that 42% of people met their close friends through work, while only 20% made close friends through church, and only 8% of adults consider themselves close friends with their children. In fact, people were most likely to find close friends from neighborhood, school, or other means more than making such friends at church. I find this particularly sad because it is through family and through church (our spiritual family) that our closest friendships should form.

Following Christ through suffering requires close reliance upon God and one another, with God being first and one another being a result of our close friendship with God.

We must rely upon the grace of God to persevere.

may the God of all grace

This verse is written as a prayer, which shows that Peter both relied upon and wanted the believers in the churches he was writing to to rely upon God. This mindset of reliance upon God differs from our natural and very American, individualist tendency to push through problems on our own through personal fortitude and resourcefulness, independence and isolation. But if believers are going to successfully follow Christ through suffering and difficult, they must consciously rely upon the grace God provides.

Without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

He provides grace.

What is grace? Grace is a difficult word to define because it encompasses so many things. It is, in essence, all the goodness and greatness of God, but not just that. It is all that goodness and greatness of God made available to you. I like to explain it as the God-given ability and means to be what you must be and to do what you must do.

He is the source of all grace and all kinds of grace.

Notice that God is not just the God of grace, but the God of all grace. This means that there is no challenge or difficulty you face, whether within or without, that God’s grace is unable to meet.

  • First, you must be convinced that that there is no category or kind of challenge, difficulty, problem, suffering, or trial that God’s grace is unable to meet and overcome.
  • Second, you must be convinced that there is no grace apart from God’s grace. There is no wisdom apart from God’s wisdom. There is no strength apart from God’s strength. There is no peace apart from God’s peace.

God is the source of all grace, there are no alternatives. And God is the source of all kinds of grace. So, whatever suffering or difficult you face, God’s grace is able to meet your need. That’s why Paul could say about a very painful and persistent problem in his life, which would not go away:

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)

He calls us to endless, superior glory in the future.

who called us to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus

God’s grace not only extends to every difficulty we might ever experience in this life, but it extends into the next and never-ending life, too. Glory here refers to that state of being and the superior quality of life we will experience after we die, when we receive our resurrected, sinless, pain-free bodies and enter into God’s eternal New Creation.

Throughout the letter Peter uses the word “glory” to refer to the state of being that was accomplished by the sufferings and resurrection of Christ (1:11), yet to be fully revealed at his return (4:13), and of which new life in Christ is even now a part (1:3). That new realm of being is eternal, making the adversities of this present age comparatively fleeting (cf. 1:24–25). (Karen Jobes)

He calls us to temporary suffering in the present.

after you have suffered a [brief, little] while

Here Peter refers to our suffering one last time in the letter. Though he has already described this suffering as a “fiery trial,” something that is very difficult, intense, and persistent, he now also describes it as “a while,” which means a comparatively “little” or “brief” period of time.

At first, this passing description may seem to be dismissive, making it sound as though Peter is being insensitive to the severity of their suffering and pain. But he is not. He is simply reminding them that no matter how long your suffering may wear on in this life, it is a “little time” compared to our coming eternal glory.

perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you

Here, Peter describes what he desires for the grace of God to accomplish in the believers’ lives. To do this, he uses four words.

  • perfect means “to complete,” emphasizing adding what is lacking.
  • establish also means “to complete,” possibly emphasizing repairing what is broken (mending nets)
  • strengthen means “to impart strength,” emphasizing providing vigor and ability
  • settle means to “fortify,” emphasizing making something secure and immovable

Together, these words basically function as synonyms, words meaning basically the same time. By layering up and combining together words with similar meanings, Peter does not necessarily intend for us to press hard for differences between them, though some may exist. Instead, he intends for us to read what he is saying here with added, fourfold certainty, confidence, and assurance.

So, Peter is expressing his confidence that the work that God set out to accomplish in and through their life when they began to follow Christ by faith he would definitely finish. Paul expressed similar sentiments for other believers he knew and loved:
Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6)

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. (1 Thess 5:24)

Like Paul, Peter believed that God’s grace would successfully guide them through whatever confusing, difficult, and painful experiences they might face in following Christ. They would not crumble; they would remain standing firm like a concrete statue in a storm.

To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

These words follow Peter’s prayer for the believers by also offering a doxology to God. Doxology – though a word that’s perhaps developed negative overtones for being associated with spiritual dead, liturgical forms of worship – is a good word that means “words, a statement, or an expression of blessing and praise.”

With these words, Peter reminds us to keep our focus where it needs to be – on God. We serve and suffer not merely or primarily for our personal benefit but for God’s.

  • glory here refers to increased acknowledgement and awareness of God as a result of our response to suffering – people will see and understand God more clearly
  • dominion here refers to God’s sovereignty, recognizing that he alone has the unqualified right to choose if, how, when, how long, and to what degree we will suffer

It is important that we keep this perspective in view. When we suffer, we can develop a myopic view of life, viewing everything from our self-centered standpoint. Yet, all that we are, become, experience, and accomplish as followers of Christ are not ultimately for ourselves but for Christ.
those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:15)

Having emphasized our need to develop a close friendship with God so that we will rely upon his grace closely and completely as we follow Christ through suffering, Peter now acknowledges one of the major, primary sources of God’s grace to us – and that is one another.

We must rely upon one another to persevere.

By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly

Good, close Christian friends, friends who are also following Christ with serious faith, are not another resource to consider and rely upon, they are God’s grace to us. And the beauty of it is that when you follow Christ, you enter a #brotherhood, which Peter has just mentioned in v. 9.
As you follow Christ, you are not alone. There are many others of us, including in your very church family, who are doing the same thing.

In Anne of Green Gables, Ann – an orphan who struggled with finding acceptance – said this,”Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Here in 1 Peter, Peter acknowledges some of his close friends and partners in following and serving Christ.

First there is Silas (Silvanus). This man is mentioned often in Acts as a partner of Paul in ministry (Acts 15:22, 27, 32, 40; 16:19, 25, 29; 17:4, 10, 14–15; 18:5) – named 12 times, and prob. 4 times by Paul in his letters, also (2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1; 1 Pet 5:10).

This man had been a faithful ministry partner with Barnabas, Paul, and now Peter. He accompanied these men on ministry trips and carried letters from them to churches with whom they wished to communicate. And being a letter-carrier was no easy task. It required weeks and months of arduous travel by foot, by boat in rough seas, and sleeping out under the stars at risk of robbery and injury by vandals or brutal attacks by wild animals. Sickness and fatigue were also possible problems.

Silas’s reputation among the early churches was widely known as a faithful and reliable brother who could be called upon for assistance and service, even with difficult, risk-taking tasks. He was a go-to guy in the church. In this case, he was going to deliver and read this letter from
Peter to the churches scattered throughout Asia Minor.

In passing, Peter described his letter as “brief,” probably contrasting it with other longer NT epistles like 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Hebrews.
exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand.

He also restates and summarizes the purpose of his letter, which he wrote to encourage suffering believers to rely upon the grace of God to stand firm in their suffering.

She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you

Here, Peter acknowledges additional friends and partners in following Christ. He provides his location, first, as “Babylon,” which cannot be the ancient city of Babylon portrayed in the OT because that city lay in ruins and was uninhabited as Peter wrote.

It seems that Peter mentioned Babylon to refer back to an OT historical development called the Diaspora (or Dispersion) when the Babylonian Empire scattered the people of Israel throughout the world away from their homeland. Peter describes the believers he was writing to this way at the start of his letter, “to the pilgrims of the Dispersion,” and now describes his current location as Babylon.

By speaking this way, he is likely referring to Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire, which was – as Babylon had once been – the dominating world power that opposed God’s people. So, it would seem that Peter had visited Rome, was writing from there, and chose to be ambiguous about his location so as to not expose himself or the believers with him to scrutiny, arrest, or otherwise increased suffering and hardship.

“She…who is elect together with you” refers to followers of Christ both with Peter at Rome and in the churches, he was writing to as a larger, extended family and group who cared for each other, not as unrelated entities. Once again, he is challenging the mistaken idea that we easily fall into when we suffer, that we are isolated, alone, and unique.

and so does Mark my son.

Mark refers to John Mark, who was probably a nephew to Barnabas. He was the young man (teenager?) who traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey but was removed from the team early in the trip for undisclosed reasons. He eventually did further missionary work with Barnabas, and Paul eventually spoke highly of him (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24).

Perhaps most interesting is that the home of Marks’s mother, named Mary, was the site of church gatherings and perhaps even the last supper of Christ (Acts 12:12).

When [Peter] had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

This statement was made about the time when Peter had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel and was facing a likely death penalty to boot. But God freed him from that prison late at night while the prison guards slept. Upon exiting the facility, he made his way to the home of Mark’s mother to find refuge and safety. Can you see the network of brothers and sisters in Christ at work here? Following and suffering for Christ is a group experience, not an individual one.

By calling Mark “my son,” Peter is not claiming to be his biological father. He is instead referring to him as a younger believer who he had influenced and mentored in the faith in some meaningful way. Mark wrote one of the four Gospels, and credible early church leaders tell us he wrote under the influence and with the input and oversight of Peter.

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Here we find one of the more curious, uncomfortable commands in the NT. Paul mentions this “kiss of love” five times (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26), but calls it a “holy kiss,” emphasizing that there should be no sensual overtones to it.

By calling it a kiss of love, Peter emphasizes the family closeness that church members should have between one another, as when a mother kisses her son on the cheek or a father kisses his daughter on the head, etc. Various cultures express such social affection differently, a kiss, usually on the cheek.

  • One Kiss: Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, the Philippines
  • Two Kisses: Spain, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia, Brazil (though, like France, the number can differ by region), and some Middle Eastern countries (though not between men and women)
  • Three Kisses: Belgium, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Egypt, and Russia (often accompanied by a bear hug)
  • Eskimos, Polynesians and Malaysians don’t kiss but rub noses, as they also do in UAE and Saudi Arabia.
  • Germans avoid facial contact altogether and prefer to shake hands, sometimes hugging between friends.
  • In Japan, people generally bow, as in India when they a person places his or her palms together in front of their chest and bow their head while saying “namaste” (or “jaimasi,” the Christian alternative).
  • In the U.S., we vary quite a bit. Sometimes we fist-bump, or handshake, or hug, or wave (or half-wave), or just nod and say hi.

From this parting instruction from Peter, we should not conclude that we should all begin kissing each other on the cheek when we gather together for fellowship and worship (though there’s nothing wrong with doing that), since cultures to have a variety of appropriate ways to express friendship besides kissing. That said, we can make at least four reasonable applications here:

  • We should gather together for fellowship and worship. Online, long-distance interactions (such as this letter) are appropriate for long-distance communication with believers far away. But for those believers in your church family, a more personal expression is required.
  • We should care for and treat one another as family and friends, not as strangers or mere social acquaintances.
  • We should appreciate and value appropriate expressions of physical affection and consider the possibility that no physical contact (just as too much) physical contact is relationally and spiritually unhealthy.
  • We should acknowledge and respect the variety of appropriate physical expressions that Christian brothers and sisters from other cultures share with us, just as God acknowledges and affirms these expressions.

If we learned anything from the COVID pandemic lockdowns, it was to place a much higher value on in-person worship and fellowship, to value being together in person. We need this kind of in-person encouragement and social support and interaction. It is important not only for our emotional and social well-being, but for our spiritual well-being as well.

Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.

This closing wish reminds us of a similar statement in Peter’s greeting to this letter, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Pet 1:2). The traditional and deeply profound Hebrew greeting of shalom should come to mind here. This concept of shalom includes a wish for the full range of God’s goodness to be experienced by the person to whom you are speaking.

As such, shalom expresses a heartfelt desire that the person to whom you are speaking will enjoy health, prosperity, and success of every kind, including circumstantial, financial, material, professional, and relational. Though we cannot guarantee such blessing in the present, we should have no reservations about desiring it for one another knowing that “God gives us all things richly to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). In saying this, though, I must offer three crucial clarifications.

  • First, we should recognize that all such blessings though uncertain but possible in this life are entirely certain and guaranteed in the life to come, in God’s eternal kingdom, the New Creation to those who have followed Christ by faith in this life. Knowing this encourages us to persevere to through the pain and suffering we experience now as we follow Christ.
  • Second, we should recognize that all such blessings should never overshadow or replace our love for God and pursuit of his will. To us, such blessings – though desired – should be viewed as unnecessary and temporary at most, even if God chooses to provide them. We should never love them or seek fulfillment and satisfaction from them (Matt 6:33).
  • Third, we should recognize that even if and when God provides us with such blessings, we cannot appreciate or enjoy them as we should unless we have first gained peace with God within our hearts. No amount of health, pleasure, success, or wealth can provide inner, lasting peace. This is why so many apparently successful people commit suicide, resort to drunkenness and drugs, and battle with relational and psychological problems.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

Is your heart at peace like placid sea, or is it turbulent like stormy waters?

When we rely upon God and draw close to one another in following Christ, we will experience the grace of God is a special and supernatural way that is not otherwise possible. This twofold vertical (with God) and horizontal (with one another) partnership is necessary for following Christ through suffering. And it produces within our hearts, minds, and emotions a peace that is not otherwise possible in the midst of our suffering.

At the end of many dangerous and thrilling quests and adventures in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Froto (the main character) spoke to Samwise Gamgee (his close friend who had been at his side from the start): “I am glad you are here with me, Sam. Here at the end of all things” (J.R. Tolkien).

Can we say this of God and of one another? “I am glad you are here with me, God. I am glad you are here with me, [name some members of your church family]. Here at the end of the world.”

What steps will you take to be a friend and make friends right here in this church family in the weeks ahead? I trust that you will indeed take some, so that you will experience the grace of God in an evermore abundant way and find greater peace for your journey.

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