“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1a; NASB)
When we teach our children to write letters today, we teach them to end their letters with a greeting and the signing of their name. It usually looks something like this:
Clark Kent, Reporter"
Letters in first century Rome looked a little different. They usually began with the author’s name rather than ending with it. The same is true for 1 Peter. Peter begins with both his name and his title, and this decision is not insignificant for our study. It calls us to stop and to ask, “Who is this Peter, and what is an apostle?”
We who have read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles will be familiar with Peter. We will be familiar with him first as a blundering, oafish disciple of Christ, though a leader among the disciples, nonetheless. He often was stricken with foot-in-mouth disease, and had an over-confidence that clearly demonstrated much need for maturity in the wisdom and grace of God. On the night in which Christ was betrayed, as was predicted by Christ Himself, Peter denied Christ three times to his shame.
Yet, as we continue to read the story of Peter in the text of Holy Scripture, we find that Christ restored him by asking him to reaffirm his love for Him three times. Peter would go on to become a leader within the church after Christ’s ascension and eventually, according to tradition, even gave his life in service to Christ. Peter’s heart was steadfast in lockstep with that of the Chief Shepherd, perhaps because at his restoration Christ told him repeatedly to feed His sheep. We certainly see that such is his heart in this letter as he writes to the under-shepherds of Christ’s dispersed flock:
“1Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory,” (1 Peter 5:1-4; NASB).
Peter was fully aware that, as an apostle of Christ, he was not serving his own cause. He was an apostle of (one sent by) Christ, a fellow elder of God’s people, a fellow under-shepherd of His flock, ultimately himself answerable to the Chief Shepherd. It is with this heart that Peter begins his first letter to the churches of Asia Minor.