The Bible is not in the nature of a mere religious text book, the fruit of human invention and speculation with sage things to say about divine and human nature, offering a programme for life and relationships in the manner of a handy reference work it is useful to have placed on a shelf for moments of curiosity or need of practical advice. Holy Scripture emerges from personal contact or connection with God and is the record of inspired thought, experience of the Lord, and illuminated observation of his works and ways. God touches and teaches certain chosen witnesses to testify to what they see mentally and actually, and understand from communion with God and guided reflection upon incidents in their own life. God makes himself known to the authors of the Bible in various ways. They are made close to him through gracious access to his presence, and from that rapport of friendship they speak of revealed objective truths that are heartfelt realities perceived by the mind and confirmed through events. Prophets and apostles declare the God of grace who met them in their sin and need and demonstrated his reliability and sufficiency. They heard him in their hearts through his personal address, and took note of his acts, and everything they relate is in terms of personal confession from a place of intimacy with the Lord and special comprehension. He not only disclosed himself to them but dealt with them, and the words of Scripture come to us from lives lived under the Lord’s hand and at his side. When the penmen of the Scriptures speak of the Lord they are not surmising or theorizing in an ingenious and plausible way, but telling us what they know so that we may know it too, as a reality to rely upon. The prophets heard God and the apostles saw Jesus and their combined message commends itself as eminently authentic. When we hold and heed the Bible we are receiving the word of witnesses - a personal word from persons proximate to the Lord, apprised of his will, and spectators of his marvellous deeds.
So when Peter imparts his pastoral advice to the recipients of his letter it is not just a catena of sound ideas to which everyone can nod in agreement if so disposed. His wisdom emerges from candour concerning his own sin and folly and the subsequent care he has received from the Chief Shepherd of the Lord’s people. If it were speculation or commendable notions we might, after due consideration, set it aside as not measuring up to our particular concepts and circumstances. But Peter is speaking from his own history and the indisputable divine pastoral action towards a man conspicuously flawed in his character and sinful in his tendencies. Peter is admitting that the Lord is his true remedy for all his cares, crises, and crimes, and therefore every believer without exception may be candid before God and place their whole confidence in him. Peter, the failure under pressure, in writing his letter is fulfilling his vocation restored to him at his reinstatement by the Lord Jesus i.e. “Feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-19), and doing as the Saviour commanded, “Strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31). Can any pastoral ministry be effective without personal knowledge of sin and weakness, and personal experience of forgiveness and grace? Pastoral care is not simply theoretical or gained merely from a textbook. It is the wise application of common human experience and self-knowledge ministered to by the proven grace of God outlined and assured in the gospel and imprinted upon the pastor’s own heart through a life of neediness and knowledge of one’s own corruption. This was the style of Peter’s ministry through his sensitive and widespread correspondence. He is not the expert dolling out wisdom from on high, but the rascal delivered from the depths. His exhortation is humble, contrite and convinced, for God’s mercy toward him has made it so. If mercy can reach and restore the very worst then its invitation is valid for all.
Peter, in his letter to the afflicted and soon to be severely tested reader, ministers the very mercy he himself has received and tried. All that he gives has been gained through his association with the Lord Jesus. He is the humble under-shepherd sharing what he has been granted by the Head Shepherd. None of this timely counsel emerges from his own insight, strength and success as a disciple. He has no sense of celebrity and superiority. He is not pontificating from his astute reflection upon the problems and perplexities of human situations, nor is he only offering the results of keen Bible study, though he is capable of both. It is perfectly proper to make sense of the doctrine of our holy faith for our rational comprehension and coherent witness, but purely intellectual approaches rarely suffice when folk find themselves in the furnace of affliction. Peter supplies encouragements from experience and observation that fit the promises and precepts of the word and confirm them to be trustworthy through the raw and sore trials of actual life as we encounter them. We are not delivered by slick formulae and superficial prayers but by solid faith sustained by grace, informed by revelation, and expressed through persistent petition.
In all of life, and especially in the midst of any ordeal, Peter reminds us to gird up with humility. The man of pride and self-exaggerated spiritual and moral prowess in his boastfulness before Jesus (Mark 14:29ff) remembers his craven collapse when faced with personal danger, and thinks again upon the habitual lowliness of the Messiah as he serves his loved ones, even to the point of death, in the symbolic attire of the most insignificant slave. Jesus wears an apron to show that the work of redemption and soul-cleansing is messy business (John 13:14). Ministered to by the humble One, how can God’s people be proud? It is a criminal contradiction of the character of God and causes God to be our adversary (v5). Arrogance elongates our trials until humility is created. Under the mighty hand of God, which orders providence, we abase ourselves in patient reliance until he decides to deliver in his own time. The waiting and the trusting can only emerge from the humbling that renounces self-importance in the scheme of things and our supposed sufficiency in the solution of things that are disagreeable. When the apostle urges us to be watchful he remembers how he was ambushed by his own hubris and then how he slept through the Saviour’s agony in the garden. Peter is sensitive to the danger of spiritual somnolence and complacency and as to how easily we may be caught off guard by temptation and tiredness, hence acting hastily or not as we should to our own disgrace and anguish of conscience, and the disadvantage of others. Sifted by Satan and mauled by the devil (Luke 22:31) Peter can warn us of the predatory activity of the evil one as he terrifies and wounds us with the roar and rage of a lion. Knowing the hurts and hazards of the Christian life, our weakness and waywardness, Peter can comfort us with the truth of the prevailing love and pity of God that rescues us from trouble and restores us in our treachery. Guilty of the heinous sin of denying the Son of God deliberately and repeatedly, Peter receives afresh mercy and ministry. It is a pledge to us of perpetual hope in all conditions. We give way to neither pride nor panic. Grace guarantees glory. God’s promise ensures our security; his power confers steadfastness. Of all this Peter is living proof, and eternal proof, for his effective pastoral care and correction exercised by the Lord is committed to the eternal record of God’s unfailing grace, the canon of Scripture, and therefore we may take consolation from the pastoral advice of Peter – the one who knows what he is talking about.