Theme: God Will Perfect You
This week’s lessons encourage us with the truth that because God always finishes what he begins, every true believer will receive God’s eternal glory in Christ.
Scripture: 1 Peter 5:10
Not only did Peter learn about suffering from Jesus. He also learned from Jesus that the only way to resist Satan is through God’s power. You will recall how Jesus told Peter at the Last Supper that “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The devil must have meant, “I know you are placing a lot of hope in these twelve disciples that you will be leaving behind when you return to heaven. But it is a hopeless gamble, and I will show you how hopeless it really is. If you will just let me get at Peter, your leading apostle, I will shake him so badly that all his faith will come tumbling out like chaff at threshing time, and he will be utterly ruined.”
Satan is a liar, of course, but I do not think he was lying at this point. He must have remembered how easy it had been for him to ruin our first parents in Eden long ago, and he concluded that if he had brought Adam and Eve to ruin, when they were then in their unfallen and pristine glory, it should have been easy to knock down Peter, who was (unlike Adam) already sinful, ignorant, brash, and ridiculously self-confident.
And he was right. Peter had boasted that he would never deny Jesus. He said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (v. 33). But when Satan blew upon him he fell. In fact, it took only a little servant girl to say of Peter, “This man was with him [that is, with Jesus]” (v. 56)! Immediately after that Peter denied that he even knew the Lord. Yet what Satan had not counted on was what Jesus also told Peter in the Upper Room. He warned him that Satan would indeed attack him and that he would fall, but he added, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32).
If Peter could explain that statement to us, he would probably say something like this: “When Jesus told me he had prayed for me so that my faith would not fail, he was telling me that I could not stand against Satan alone. And neither can you! Satan is much too powerful for us. So do not make the mistake I made, assuming that because I loved Jesus I could never be led by Satan to deny that I ever knew him. Satan can bend us any way he wishes. But if we are joined to Jesus, we will find that he is able to keep us from falling or, if he allows us to fall, he is able to keep us from falling the whole way, and will in any case forgive us, bring us back to himself, and give us meaningful work to do.”
Some years ago I heard Professor John Gerstner reflect on this story, claiming (in jest) that before his fall Peter had written a hymn that is not in the hymnbook I use but which I have occasionally heard sung. It goes, “Lord, we are able….” But what Peter learned is that we are not able, not in ourselves, and that if we are to stand against Satan, it must be by the persevering grace of God, who has promised to restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast.
In one respect, the King James translation of 1 Peter 5:10 is not as accurate as the New International Version, because it turns the promise “God…will…restore you” into a wish: “The God of all grace…make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” I mentioned that matter earlier. However, there is one way in which the King James Version is closer to the Greek text than the New International Version, and this is the way in which it lists the four things Peter says God will do for believers. For some reason the NIV breaks them up, saying that God “will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” But in the original text these are merely four powerful verbs, each in the future tense: “will perfect,” “will establish,” “will strengthen.” and “will settle.” There are no additional words. In other words, the verse simply lists four things that God will do for all believers.
God will perfect you. The word which the KJV translated “perfect” means “to make fully ready” or “to complete.” It was used of making fishing nets ready by mending them, which is probably where the NIV translators got the idea of restoration. Or perhaps they were thinking of Peter’s experience of having denied Jesus and of later being restored. But it is not really this that Peter is thinking of. He has spoken of suffering, and the idea is not that we are restored from suffering but rather that suffering is used by God to complete or perfect what he is doing with us.
The same idea emerges if we think of grace. The verse begins “and the God of all grace,” which means that God is the source of every grace and will supply what we need to go onto spiritual wholeness or perfection. Earlier I listed the graces of electing, calling, sanctifying, and so on. At this point, in view of our being attacked by Satan, it might be more helpful to think of the Christian’s armor which God also graciously supplies.
Paul lists the articles of a Christian’s armor in Ephesians 6, making some of the same points Peter is making in his letter: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:10, 11, 14-17).
Will a Christian ever turn from the faith as a result of suffering? Explain.
What does it mean to speak of God perfecting a Christian?
How can that promise be misunderstood?
Reflection: How are the circumstances in Peter’s life instructive for your own battle against Satan?
For Further Study: For lessons on perseverance from the book of Hebrews, See Aimee Byrd’s newest book, Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2015).