During his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to expect persecution in this world. Jesus even told Peter personally to expect his own martyrdom. Decades later, after the Roman persecution of Christians had begun, Peter passed on the same message, explaining that Christians should expect suffering in this world. 1 Peter uses the words “suffer” and “suffering” more than any other book in the Bible, but paradoxically it is also one of the most encouraging and hopeful books in Bible. This is because 1 Peter explores not only the challenges of the Christian life, but also how Christians can persevere and flourish, by turning their suffering into sanctification.
Peter’s method might be summarized in three steps. The first is to recognize that we are “born again to a living hope,” whereby the trials of this life are only a temporary testing to prove and refine our faith (1 Peter 1:3). Second, we are to “subject [our]selves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,” not to show agreement or approval of our authorities’ every act, but rather to imitate Christ in his willing acceptance of unjust suffering (1 Peter 2:13). Third, to “rejoice,” for in the midst of such trials we participate in “Christ’s sufferings” and receive the “Spirit of glory and of God” (1 Peter 4:12-14). In this way, we join the pattern of Peter, who learned faith by walking on water, by focusing on Christ instead of the storm.
In some ways 1 Peter is the most difficult to illustrate of our set of four books, since it is a letter and not a narrative. But that challenge lends itself to Stephen Procopio’s strength as a conceptual artist. For example, Stephen depicts the central section of teachings concerning subjection with a series of illustrated wreaths, capturing the different ways Peter teaches us to put ourselves under various authorities. In the following image, flowers are intertwined with chains, illustrating the way that Christians can bring life and beauty even into circumstances of injustice.
In our present cultural moment, it is especially helpful to revisit 1 Peter, and not only to become more aware of the historical context that prompted Peter to write his first letter. Today, Christians often feel that we are, as Peter describes us, “living as foreigners” (1 Peter 1:1). Thus 1 Peter offers us a timely reminder that God always works for the good of his people, even in and through their exile. If there are those who mean to do us evil, God can use their action for our good. Our task, as in the conclusion of 1 Peter is to “humble ourselves,” lest the devil devour us through our pride (1 Peter 5:6). When we do that, we can allow the sufferings of life to work in us the greater glory of Christ.
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