Four Themes for Discipleship and Dads in the Letter of 1 Peter, by Pastor Adam Anderson

I was recently asked to preach for Father’s Day and pondered many things I could talk about, but I began to get puzzled over what text to preach. On the one hand, there are a multitude of texts that could be explored that have principles that every father should hear. On the other hand, I wanted to edify the whole church, not just dads. After a couple days of considering several different options…hmm, what to do…..something from the Pentateuch? A Psalm? A Proverb? Perhaps something from Paul? Finally, I decided to go with 1 Peter. I thought this would be a good option since I had already been immersed in this letter for quite a while[1]. So, I began to walk myself through the process of breaking down the book into manageable chunks looking for lines of thought that span the entire work.

               After many times of reading the letter through, I noticed four major themes that the Apostle presents as he challenges his readers to a life of holiness[2]. The themes are Imitation, Opposition, Outreach, and Communion.


               The theme of imitation is explicitly addressed five times throughout the letter (1:15; 2:21; 3:1,7; 4:1; 5:3b). After the initial description of the saving action of God (1:1-2:10), every subsequent description of Christ sets out the expectation that believers are to emulate his ways. This is understood within the framework of the family/clan terminology and priestly imagery that is touched on throughout the letter.[3] The force of the exhortations to imitate Christ emerges when Peter describes his character when he was slandered, abused, and insulted.

               Imitation comes across as an ‘echo’ of God’s character (if you will), reflecting his holiness. Imitation is beyond mere ‘copycat’ behavior. Being a copycat can be rather unbecoming since it could be done without purpose, or silliness, or even mockery[4]. Nor is it ‘call-and-response’—which can be confused, abstract, or vague since the ‘response’ may not correspond with the ‘call’. Instead, it is more like ‘signal-to-echo’ (to borrow from the world of music). The signal is the original sound produced by the instrument and the echo is an exact duplicate of the sound. Of course, we are not an exact duplicate of God, but insofar as we can imitate the Lord in his holiness, we exhibit our relation to Him.


               The identity of believers is exhibited through the good conduct from fearing God (reverent love) in every situation (1:17; 2:17). This is seen most dramatically against the backdrop of opposition. As ‘strangers and exiles’ (2:11), opposition is the atmosphere we live in, as those who do not belong; outsiders. From this standpoint, my definition of opposition would be, ‘Any words, attitudes, or actions that work to distort or destroy the reputation of Christ and the Church’. In the setting of the original audience opposition consists mostly in verbal abuse—slander, accusation, insults, threats, deceit, etc.

Opposition comes from three sources: the surrounding culture, ourselves, and satanic/spiritual adversity—the infamous trio of ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’ (cf. James 3:15). First, opposition from the surrounding culture came from within the Graeco-Roman worldview of the 1st century where Christians were accused of terrorism, atheism, cannibalism, immorality, damaging trade and social progress, and insurrection (see 1:6; 2:12; 3:9,16; 4:4,12,14). In our culture, Christians are accused regularly of bigotry, hatred, intolerance, anti-intellectualism, etc. Second, the opposition that comes from ourselves is seen as originating from either a) the ignorance of our pre-Christian experience passed down through ancestry (1:14,18)[5], b) our tendency to retaliate out of frustration or anger (2:1; 3:9-11; 4:15), or c) our tendency toward satisfying fleshly desires (4:2,3). Third, opposition that comes from satanic activity(5:8) is perhaps the most comprehensive. The description of Satan ‘prowling around like a roaring lion’ is a fearful image of the voracious appetite of a fierce and powerful beast that is calculating the angle of attack upon its prey. This is the reality of our situation as believers (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12)

The virtues Christians live by are not the common stock of “polite society”. They are radically different because they spring from the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, and reveal the covenantal status of God’s people, as of ‘sprinkling with Christ’s blood’ (1:2)[6]. They are theattitudes and actions that emulate Christ and reveal the identity of the members of the New Covenant. The ethics of the Christian are eschatological in nature, being of this time of fulfillment[7]. We might call them “eschatological ethics”. These ethics are the effect of the Spirit’s work, promoting further maturity and growth to live in the eschaton, while fostering believers’ joy in being like Christ, and for passing on what we’ve learned to the next generation. Peter reaches backward to show that these virtues have been lived out by God’s people in history, not just from the time of Christ’s first advent. [8]


Much of Peter’s concern has to do with the forward progress of the gospel; about how to win people to Christ through gospel proclamation that is authenticated by good conduct. This shows how Christianity is unique, distinct from the surrounding pagan culture. This produces the twofold effect of drawing out praise to God from non-believers (2:12; cf. Matt. 5:16), and to ‘silence the ignorance of foolish people’ (2:15)

Peter makes reference to the gospel as “the good news” (1:12, 25), “the word” (1:23; 2:8; 3:1), and the “gospel of God” (4:17). It is noteworthy to observe that the gospel is not only the proclamation of the person and work of Christ, but is also a command to be obeyed. Those who disobey the message of Christ (perhaps a general reference to unregenerate Jews) are said to be those who “stumble… they were destined to” (2:8). Non-believing husbands of Christian wives have also been disobedient to the gospel message, but have hope by observing the good conduct of their wives (3:1).


               Finally, there are several statements that fall into the category of communion with God (broadly understood), mostly as references to prayer and reliance on the Lord through the depths of trial and grief. It makes sense that if the opposition to the church was primarily verbal, the references to communion are also verbal. Notice the following statements directly referring to prayer: “call on Him as Father” (1:17); “prayers” (3:7); “…bless” (3:9); “his ears are open to their prayer” (3:12); “your prayers” (4:7); “casting all your anxieties on Him” (5:7).

               Other statements which remotely orbit the theme of communion are as follows: “as you come to Him” (2:4) [perhaps as in repentance and faith]; “to offer spiritual sacrifices” (2:5) [broad enough to encompass anything of worship/devotion, specifically prayer]; “entrusting Himself” (2:23) [here, Christ’s ‘entrusting’ is mentioned at a hinge-point in the immediate context of being verbally abused with physical suffering]; “as an appeal (or pledge) to God” (3:21) [here, the concept of baptism is somewhat abstracted from the water ritual, as an ‘acted prayer’ grounded in Christ’s saving work]; “entrust their souls” (4:19) [similar to the above, in the context of physical suffering]

Summing It Up

               There is encouragement for disciples and Dads in 1Peter. All that the Apostle says of what God has done for us and in us, the way Peter describes our relationship to God as part of a holy family and people, and all that we are called to say and do is sweet nourishment for the soul. For Dads in particular, there is great encouragement that is built into the position of fatherhood, as part of his ‘spiritual DNA’.

               A man who is faithfully fulfilling his role as a father is imitating God as a protector, provider, teacher, and leader, and is “offering up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ”. These are good works of speaking and acting that “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. The patient and sacrificial work of Christian Dads are works done ‘in the light’ (cf. John 3:21) that God sees as precious when they happen in the midst of opposition. The faithful works of disciples and dads, when done with humility and respect, are a gracious thing (2:19)—a ‘thanks’ from God that will be rewarded when He returns. You are blessed (3:14; 4:14), and will receive praise, honor, and glory (1:7) from Jesus Christ.[9]

[1] I have been pursuing a pet project of looking into all the quotations, imagery, allusions, illustrations, and references of the OT background for every verse in the book of 1 Peter (something very similar to The New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament by Carson and Beale). At this point I am roughly halfway through the letter.

[2] The life of holiness is an expression of the Christian’s identity which is grounded in the work of the Trinity from eternity past (see 1 Pet. 1:1-13; 2:2-10). This life is exemplified in the eschatological New Covenant age; the time of fulfillment anticipating the Lord’s return. ‘Holiness’, as I take it, is not conceived as being primarily moral uprightness (though certainly not less than that), but that of being ‘other’, or ‘unique’, or ‘set-apart’ which is reflective of the supreme attribute of God’s nature; that primary quality which is tantamount to being “an adjective for God” (as D.A. Carson puts it); supremely manifested through acts of love.

[3] Terms such as: Father 1:2,3,17; Born again 1:3, 23; Inheritance 1:4; obedient children 1:14; Newborn Infants 2:2; Spiritual house 2:5; Priesthood…nation…people, 2:9; Brotherhood 2:17; 5:9; Children (of women) 3:6; Brotherly love 3:8; Christian…name 4:16; brotherhood 5:9; brother 5:12; my son 5:13

[4] This is not to suggest that a Christian would do such a thing, just that ‘copy-cat’ lacks the gravity of the imitation in 1Peter.

[5] These verses touch on a controversy regarding the audience Peter is addressing. Is he referring to the pagan roots of Gentiles, or to the heritage of Jews under the Law? I am persuaded of both groups, who are now one new man in Christ. (cf. Eph. 2:11-22)

[6] The Church can be thought of as “Eschatological Israel”, which speaks of the expansion and fulfillment of the OT people of God

[7] Christian ethics are grounded in the substance of the New Covenant promise of a heart of flesh, forgiveness of sin, knowledge of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezk. 36:26-27)

[8] Notice Peter’s reference to the good conduct of holy people of the past (3:5-6, 20)

[9] For further study, see Witherington III, Ben. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter (Letters and Homilies Series), InterVarsity, 2007; The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message. Zondervan, 2015; NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Zondervan,2016; Jobes, Karen H. 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Baker, 2005; Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter; Greg W. Forbes B& H Publishing Group Nashville, 2014; Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Peter T. O’Brien. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. NSBT 11. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001.; G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (eds.), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007; New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T.D. Alexander and B.S.Rosner, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000; Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. L. Ryken, J.C. Wilhoit, and T. Longman III, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998