8 May 2014

1 Peter 5:1-14

“Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (v. 8)


The prowling devil searching for someone to swallow is a frightening image.

The word in Greek for 'devil' is 'diabolos'; it is the root of the English word 'diabolical'. Diabolical describes behaviour that is harmful and unjust. The Christians who first read this letter were vulnerable to the diabolical actions of people in their communities. The author suggests that these actions were really caused by disobedient and disruptive spiritual forces, which are easily personified as 'the devil'. The letter encourages these Christian converts from paganism to express love for their enemies, as well as for other Christians. The expression of self-giving love and the practice of 'doing good' are pleasing to God. As one learns in this last chapter, the loving of one's enemy is also a means of resisting evil or 'the devil'.

Less important than who or what is meant by the term 'devil' is the means by which Christians resist being wounded in spirit by the wrongheaded actions of others. Previous chapters encourage the Christian converts in Asia Minor to fulfil their social duties and love their enemies in the face of insults. Self-giving love and the practice of 'doing good' are pleasing to God. Now the letter instructs that loving one's enemy is also a means of resisting evil. The concern here is about the internal battle of these early Christians to resist retaliating against those who hurt them. If they allowed arrogance, anxiety, and anger to consume them, then their relationship with God would suffer. Nonresistance and the demonstration of self-sacrificing love toward their enemies would ensure victory in the spiritual struggle with evil.

Those who struggle often feel isolated. 1 Peter places the struggles of the Christians in Asia in the context of the fellowship of Christians throughout the known world. Although the life of discipleship was difficult to maintain in the face of injury, they received the comfort that they were not alone. They had a share in the struggles of all those who followed the crucified Christ.

To Ponder

  • How are images of the devil useful in discussions of wrong actions?
  • What examples might you give of active and loving nonresistance?
  • How do people of faith support efforts to resist oppression?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.