To understand the setting for 1 Peter, here’s a quote from the introduction to 1 Peter from the online version of the ESV Study Bible:
Peter encourages his readers to endure suffering and persecution (1:6–7; 2:18–20; 3:9, 13–17; 4:1–4, 12–19; 5:9) by giving themselves entirely to God (4:19). They are to remain faithful in times of distress, knowing that God will vindicate them and that they will certainly enjoy the salvation that the Lord has promised. The death and resurrection of Christ stand as the paradigm for the lives of believers. Just as Christ suffered and then entered into glory, so too his followers will suffer before being exalted.
The letter is addressed to Christians dispersed in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1), an area north of the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey); see map above. …
Although the entire book of 1 Peter offers insights about living honorably as persecuted believers in an honor/shame-based society, I will look only at 1 Peter 2:1–12. My comments about this passage are made by seeing these verses through the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame.
1 Peter 2:1 — Characteristic of honor-shame societies are highly competitive social games and attitudes. Jerome Neyrey calls it the “ubiquitous game of challenge and riposte or push-and-shove”. Malice, envy, deceit, hypocrisy, slander are attitudes and behaviors that were present in ancient Middle Eastern societies. They are to be “put away” by all believers! Followers of Jesus are to “vacate the playing field” of this competitive, conflict-generating social game that characterizes honor-shame societies.
1 Peter 2:2–3 — In contrast, believers are to pursue the achieved honor of developing the righteousness that characterizes followers of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4 — Rejection is normative for believers; however, the “shaming techniques” of the community are to be resisted. The shame of rejection is contrasted with the great honor of being God’s chosen, which constitutes ascribed honor. “Precious” in the sight of God implies affection from God the Father to amplify the ascribed honor.
1 Peter 2:5 — Believers are transformed to a higher honor status via becoming part of “a holy priesthood”. The phrase “acceptable to God” indicates the polar opposite of being rejected in shame by Almighty God. The phrase “through Jesus Christ” refers to Christ’s high priestly office as Messiah and mediator between God and and all humanity—a role and office of staggering honor.
1 Peter 2:6 — Here we see the fulfillment of the prophetic words in Isaiah 28:16. It is the ancient covenantal story of God with his people Israel—from which came the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ—the most honorable of all the “stones”. He is the very summation and crux of the story. The prophesy is now fulfilled! And the result? …“whoever believes in him will not be put to shame”. It an astounding promise, the ultimate good news—for people whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame.
1 Peter 2:7 — Peter writes, “So the honor is for you who believe”. Amazing—this is a most unusual way to gain honor. This honor is gained neither by ascribed honor (family name and official title) nor by achieved honor (through competition and conquest). But simply by BELIEF in the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ (Psalm 118:22). It is contrasted with those “who do not believe”.
1 Peter 2:8 — For those “who do not believe”, Peter quotes Isaiah 8:14 . The Cornerstone will be “a stone of stumbling, a rock of offense”—He will be an “offense”. This is an understated way of saying a means of ultimate shame for those who fail to honor God. Unbelievers justly receive this punishment of shame because they “disobey the word”—“as they were destined to do”—which amplifies the depth of their shame in contrast to being “chosen by God” (1 Peter 2:4).
1 Peter 2:9 — We see here the multifaceted honor of the community of believers. They are 1) “a chosen race”—the ascribed honor of being the elect … plus 2) “royal priesthood”—denoting regal honor … plus 3) “holy nation” (holy = being set apart, and virtuous behavior—a blend of ascribed and achieved honor) … plus 4) “a people for his own possession”—achieved honor based on covenantal love … plus 5) “to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”—here we also see a people with a royal, highly esteemed ambassadorship with the responsibility for mission which accrues to great reward; an example of achieved honor.
1 Peter 2:10 — Faith in Jesus Christ results in a dramatic change in honor status—from zero people-honor, entitled to zero mercy—to being God’s chosen people entitled to infinite mercy; such a dramatic shift in honor status was most rare in the days of ancient Rome. This dramatic transformation of honor status happens by belief in Christ and results in becoming part of a new kinship group—the family of God, the CHURCH local and universal under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:11 — It is normative for Christians to be “sojourners and exiles”. Peter is urging believers to live in a way commensurate with the immense honor of being the people of God. The honor challenge is to resist the temptations and shaming techniques of your culture—for this is warfare against your soul, your true identity.
1 Peter 2:12 — Christians must live honorably among the Gentiles; they must resist their shaming techniques and their evil words. In turn, those who are not believers will acknowledge the believers’ honor as a people, and ultimately give honor and glory to God. Paradoxically, this creates hope and vision for more honor out of the very experience of being shamed.
What are some suggestions for cross-cultural ministry?
1) Consider 1 Peter a “shame-resilience guide-book”. Cross-cultural workers serving in honor-shame societies among first generation believers should consider how the book of 1 Peter might serve as a guide for building shame-resilience in new Christ-followers. Going through 1 Peter in a small group study—while alert to the dynamics of honor and shame—would be a very instructive practice. See this quick-reference guide for assistance in reading the Bible through the lens of honor and shame.
2) Cultivate a culture of honor in the church family. Intensify the practice of honor in the church. The church must be a place of Christ-centered acceptance, love and affection. Believers from societies whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame should feel the honor of being part of their church family. Consider how you and your team can create a culture of honor.
3) Actively discourage rivalry. Shame-based cultures produce intense rivalry. Leaders should take note of it in the greater church, in their own local group, as well as in their own individual lives (Philippians 2:3). Once taking note of it, leaders must repent of it in their own lives and humbly challenge the behavior when they see it in others. Rivalry will prevent or destroy a culture of honor in the church.
4) Keep focusing on King Jesus. Our Lord Jesus Christ is ever the source of the believer’s and church’s honor. Hebrews 12:1–4 is particularly instructive in this regard, and especially verse 2: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
1. Jerome H. Neyrey: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1998) p. 20. Neyrey contends that Jesus is calling His followers, particularly males, to “vacate the playing field”, so that rather than gaining honor in the traditional way through public game-playing, they are gaining honor by living in the kingdom of God in joyful obedience to its King.