The apostle Peter took up his pen 30 years or so after the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, and set himself to write something encouraging to the beleaguered Christians of Asia Minor. They were being abused by overbearing bosses (2:18), threatened by unbelieving spouses (3:1, 6), and ridiculed by skeptical neighbors and associates (4:14). On the horizon loomed the possibility of a much more violent form of persecution (4:12–18).
It was a very anti-Christian society. The question raised for these believers is the same that we should pose for ourselves today: How can we have the power of soul in times of great stress and anxiety not just to endure the evil day, but to be joyful and to fill our lives with the fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:11), with deeds of kindness, with projects of mercy, with labors of love? How, when your life is in jeopardy, or your job, or your marriage, or your health, or your respect in the community—how can you rise up with joy and bless those who abuse you and devote yourself to labors of love? To busy yourself for love’s sake takes power in the very best of circumstances. But to spend yourself in love to others when your own life is falling apart, that takes a power of soul which is utterly beyond us. If that is what we are called to do, then the power has to come from some source greater than the human soul.
The Need for Great Love
And as you all know, the Bible—especially Peter’s first letter—does not ease our burden by saying: «When things are tough, don’t fret about others; take care of yourself.» In fact, Peter seems to suggest that the tougher the times, the greater the need to live a life of love for others. Listen to what he writes:
Having purified your souls, by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brothers, love one another earnestly from the heart. (1:22)
Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (2:11, 12)
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (2:21–23)
Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary, bless; for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing. For «He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it.» (3:9–11)
Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. (4:8)
There is no slackening in the summons to live like Jesus, even when life is really tough. So Peter doesn’t lighten our load by saying we don’t have to live like Jesus in hard times. Instead he writes something to give us the power to love.
What Is Living Hope?
1) What is «living hope»? The New Testament idea of hope is very different from our normal thinking about hope. We say to someone: Will the North Stars win the Stanley Cup? And they say: I don’t know; I hope so. In other words, hope, as we typically think about it, is a desire for some future thing which we are uncertain of attaining. That is not the way Peter, or the rest of the New Testament, thinks about hope. When Peter says in 1:13, «Hope fully in the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,» he does not mean we should desire it and be uncertain of it. The coming of Christ is a matter of complete confidence for all the writers in the New Testament. So the command, «Hope fully,» means be intensely desirous and fully confident that Jesus Christ is coming again with grace for his people. Another example outside 1 Peter would be Hebrews 6:11 where it says, «We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope to the end.» So we can define hope, in the New Testament sense, as full assurance, or strong confidence that God is going to do good to us in the future.
But there is something even more peculiar about Christian hope: Peter calls it «living hope.» What does that mean? The opposite of a «living hope» would be a «dead hope,» and that calls to mind a similar phrase in James 2, namely, «dead faith.» «Faith without works is dead» (2:26), James says. That is, faith is barren, fruitless, unproductive (2:20). So «living faith» and, by analogy, «living hope» would be fertile, fruitful, productive hope. Living hope is hope that has power and produces changes in life. This is what «living’ means in Hebrews 4:12, where it says, «The word of God is living and effective.» So Christian hope is a strong confidence in God which has power to produce changes in how we live.