Why Me, Lord?

My Sunday School class has just finished the book of First Peter, which has a lot of great teaching. While the major theme of the book is suffering (which I’ll get to in a moment), here is a sample of many significant verses:

  1. A definite reference to the trinity (1 Peter 1:2)
  2. Suffering is proof of your faith (1 Peter 1:6-7, 9, 4:12)
  3. The prophets predicted the suffering of Christ (1 Peter 1:11)
  4. We are called to be holy, fear God and love others (1 Peter 1:15, 17, 22, 4:8)
  5. The Word of God abides forever (1 Peter 1:24-25)
  6. We are to be hungry to understand God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2)
  7. We are to be living stones (1 Peter 2:5)
  8. Live with integrity while passing through this life (1 Peter 2:11)
  9. We are to submit to the authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14, 18)
  10. We find favor with God when we suffer for doing what is right (1 Peter 2:20, 3:14, 17, 4:14, 16, 19, 5:10)
  11. Jesus is our example, we are to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21)
  12. Lifestyle evangelism really is in the Bible (1 Peter 3:1)
  13. God doesn’t hear your prayers if you don’t treat your wife right (1 Peter 3:7)
  14. Always be ready to tell others why you are a believer (1 Peter 3:15)
  15. Jesus preached to the spirits now in prison (1 Peter 3:19)
  16. Just where is Jesus right now? (1 Peter 3:22)
  17. Live for God, not the pleasures of today (1 Peter 4:2)
  18. Exercise your spiritual gift (1 Peter 4:10)
  19. Judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17)
  20. Pastors are to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2)
  21. Younger men need older mentors (1 Peter 5:5)
  22. We are to humble ourselves before God does it for us (1 Peter 5:6)
  23. We have a spiritual enemy ready to devour us (1 Peter 5:8)
  24. We are told to greet each other with a kiss of love (1 Peter 5:14)

Back to the topic for today:

When we suffer in our lives, we often will think that we did something wrong to deserve the suffering, as if it were some sort of punishment; sort of a cause and effect relationship. While the law of sowing and reaping is very true (Galatians 6:7-8, 2 Corinthians 9:6) and God will at time discipline those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6), the universe would be quite an unreliable place if God shot us a lightning bolt for every evil deed and triggered some pleasure sensor for doing good. Let’s consider the story of the man born blind in John 9:

“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:2-3)

A common belief in Jewish culture was that bad happenings or suffering was the result of some great sin, but Jesus used this man’s suffering to teach about faith and the glory of God. We live in a fallen world where good behavior is not always rewarded and bad behavior is not always punished. Therefore, innocent people sometimes suffer. Jesus said the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).

On a larger scale, think about the reason that people follow God. Do they believe and follow God because of what they get out of it, or because He deserves our devotion and it’s the right thing to do? Think it over. Do you follow Christ because He promised heaven at the end of this life? Would you still follow Him even if you knew hell was your final destination? If God took suffering away whenever we asked, we would follow him for comfort and convenience, not out of love and devotion. Regardless of the reasons for our suffering, Jesus has the power to help us deal with it. We don’t go through this life alone.

So, when you suffer from a disease, tragedy, or disability, try not to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” or “What did I do wrong?” Instead, ask God to give you strength for the trial and a clearer perspective on what is happening. First Peter tells us that you will be blessed and rewarded.

Do You Want to Grow Up?

The purpose of today’s lesson is to desire spiritual growth. When have you wished, at least for a moment, that you were not an adult? What people and events has God used to move you toward maturity? Make a list or create a timeline. As much as you are able, re-enter those events, and thank God for what happened then.

The apostle Peter opens this section of his letter by insisting that his readers “grow up in your salvation.” Read 1 Peter 2:1-12. What is it that made 1 Peter 2:4 especially important to the first century Christians?

1. What characteristics of spiritual maturity do you find in this passage?
This question leads to an overview of the passage. Notice characteristics inhibiting spiritual maturity in 1 Peter 2:1. Note that our maturity begins with God; he chooses us (1 Peter 2:4). The implications of being chosen by God become more fully evident in our relationships with other believers, as described in 1 Peter 2:9-10, and are lived out in particular ways that point to an eternal future (1 Peter 2:11-12). Maybe we can rephrase the question, “What forces do you see in this passage that lead a person toward spiritual maturity?”

2. Peter speaks here of two aspects of Christian growth: individual and corporate. How might the five inner sins of 1 Peter 2:1 damage our relationships with other believers? When have you seen this kind of damage?
Don’t settle for a mere recitation of the sins listed in verse. Discuss how each one corrupts Christian relationships.

3. What does the metaphor in 1 Peter 2:2-3 suggest about how we should nurture spiritual growth?

4. How does belief or unbelief influence the way a person understands Jesus, the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4-8)? What are some of the effects of these differing points of view?
Find several phrases that represent the two opposing points of view. Discuss the differing effects of belief and unbelief. 1 Peter 2:8 raises the question “Does God destine some people to be eternally lost?”

5. What would you expect to see in a person who had imitated Jesus and become a “living stone”?

6. What reasons do the people here have to praise God (1 Peter 2:9-10)?
What is the “royal priesthood” mentioned here? The New Bible Commentary points out that throughout Old Testament history a division existed between kingly functions and priestly functions. In fact, King Saul received severe condemnation from Samuel when he attempted to combine the two roles (1 Samuel 13:5-15), but believers in Christ are both royalty and priests before God.

7. As you look more carefully at 1 Peter 2:9, think of Christians you know. What steps could you take in these Christian groups to live up to this description?

8. What inner and outer battles do you see in 1 Peter 2:11-12?
Consider both what we are together as well as what we do.

9. 1 Peter 2:11 repeats a now familiar theme in this letter, that Christians are aliens and strangers in the world. How might living up to the description of 1 Peter 2:9 cause a Christian to be alienated from the world?

10. The New Bible Commentary interprets 1 Peter 2:12, “the day [God] visits us,” as “the day God will visit the earth and search out man’s hearts in judgment.” If this were to occur in your lifetime, what evidence would you want God to find of your own spiritual growth?

11. How could today’s passage help you overcome a tendency to be a spiritual Peter Pan?
Thank God for specific forces he has brought into your life that have drawn you toward spiritual maturity. Ask for his care in further preparing you for the time when you will meet him face to face.

Going Deeper
Take a prayerful look at spiritual maturity as Peter describes it in his letter. Place this alongside several areas of your life and evaluate your progress in that direction. Where appropriate, give yourself spiritual goals, noting a date when you will look back at your notes and evaluate your progress. These questions below may help guide your thinking and praying.

  1. Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander keep me from growing to spiritual maturity (1 Peter 2:1). I need to root these out of my life by …
  2. God calls me to spiritual maturity by joining me with other Christians as a “spiritual house” 1 Peter 2:5), “a royal priesthood” and “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). I need to work on this spiritual connection with other Christians by …
  3. Christian maturity means that I am never quite at home in this world. I am an alien and a stranger (1 Peter 2:11) who wants to live in a way that causes even current non-Christians to “glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). I will express my alien status in this world by …

An adult Peter Pan is only a shadowy shape of an adult. In what ways would it be tempting to follow Peter Pan’s approach to life? What happens when a person refuses to grow up? Why might some Christians intentionally limit their spiritual growth?

How do you respond to Peter’s description of you (1 Peter 2:9)? In what dark rooms in your life has God turned on the light? How does 1 Peter 2:11 encourage you and relieve your anxiety about temptation, or make you feel defeated? What war or struggle are you facing that only Jesus can overcome?

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Introduction to First Peter

We are finishing our study of the life of Peter, and decided to move right into the writings of Peter. First Peter is a wonderful book of hope for the hurting. Get the First Peter Chart. Here are a few facts about the book:

  1. Of the 12 original disciples, only three where inspired by the Spirit to write Scripture (Matthew, John and Peter).
  2. In Peter’s letters, he takes seriously the last command of Jesus to feed his sheep (John 21:15-17).
  3. Peter writes a lot about hope (1 Peter 1:3, 13, 21, 3:15) , whereas Paul writes about faith and John writes about love (Faith, hope and love – 1 Corinthians 13:13).
  4. A key theme in Peter’s writings is suffering (word used sixteen times) and grace (used eight times).
  5. The church appears to be affected by worldliness in the pew (1 Peter 2:11) and materialism in the pulpit (1 Peter 5:1, 2, 3).

Peter develops the doctrine of Christ in a remarkable way:

  1. Incarnation (1 Peter 1:20)
  2. Names of Christ: Spotless Lamb (1 Peter 1:19), Chief Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6) in relation to the Scripture, Precious Stone (1 Peter 2:7) in relation to the believer, Stumbling Stone (1 Peter 2:8) in relation to unbelievers, Bishop of our Souls (1 Peter 2:25), Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4)
  3. Sinless Life (1 Peter 1:19, 2:22)
  4. Suffering and Death (1 Peter 1:11, 2:23, 24, 3:18, 4:1, 13, 5:1)
  5. Resurrection (1 Peter 3:21, 22)
  6. Ascension (1 Peter 3:22)
  7. Presence at the right hand of the Father (1 Peter 3:22)
  8. Second Coming (1 Peter 1:13, 17, 4:13, 5:1, 4)

Peter describes believers in a remarkable way:

  1. Obedient Children (1 Peter 1:14)
  2. Newborn Babes (1 Peter 2:2)
  3. Living Stones (1 Peter 2:5)
  4. Holy Priesthood (1 Peter 2:5)
  5. Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:5)
  6. Holy Nation (1 Peter 2:9)
  7. Peculiar People (1 Peter 2:9)
  8. Strangers and Pilgrims (1 Peter 2:11)
  9. Christians (1 Peter 4:16)
  10. The Righteous (1 Peter 4:18)
  11. The Elect of God (1 Peter 1:2)
  12. The People of God (1 Peter 2:10)
  13. The Oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11)
  14. The Flock of God (1 Peter 5:2)

It is considered that Mark’s gospel reflects the teachings of Peter.

  1. Peter and John are the only NT writers who refer to Jesus as a lamb (John 1:29, 36, Revelation 5:6, 1 Peter 1:19).
  2. Peter was familiar with Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:15, 16).
  3. There is a similarity of teaching and wording between 1 Peter and Ephesians.
    Ephesians 1:3 and 1 Peter 1:3
    Ephesians 3:5, 10 and 1 Peter 1:12
    Ephesians 3:6, 21 and 1 Peter 4:11
    Ephesians 3:8 and 1 Peter 1:8
    Ephesians 4:2 and 1 Peter 3:9
    Ephesians 4:7, 11 and 1 Peter 4:10
    Ephesians 4:13, 15 and 1 Peter 2:2

Next we will look at being strangers in this world…

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Inspiration, Faith & Integrity

My Sunday morning Bible study is taking a fresh look at Peter and how his life often mirrors our own at various times in life. This week we are looking at the power of God that filled Peter’s life, and how that made a difference.

Pilate’s wife warned him not to mess with Jesus (Matthew 27:19). The guards who stood at the tomb didn’t really know what happened that night (Matthew 28:11-15) but were paid to give false testimony. Right at seven weeks after these amazing events, the next Jewish feast had arrived. We find the disciples gathered in an upper room praying. They saw Jesus ascend to heaven but had not yet received what Jesus had promised, the Spirit, power, and they did not even know what to look for. Would they even recognize it when it came?

Inspired Words: Acts 2:1-40 (primarily Acts 2:1-14)
On the streets below the room where the believers are gathered, Jerusalem is busy. Jewish pilgrims from all over the world have come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. The believers have been in prayer (Acts 1:14), as instructed by Jesus, and waiting to see what he promised (Acts 1:8). Suddenly, a roaring wind fills the house and tongues of fire fall on each person. The visitation is unmistakable, and the promised power has arrived.

Peter is filled with words to explain the amazing event. A miracle occurs as visitors in town for the feast hear the good news about Jesus in their native tongue (Acts 2:11). They are touched by the message and confused by the messengers (Acts 2:12-13). Then Peter takes the lead. He stands up and preaches the world’s first post-ascension sermon (Acts 2:14). He steps into the role he will fill for the rest of his life: a vocal leader of the Jesus movement.

  1. Peter’s regrets and failures are nowhere evident in Acts 2. It’s as though they never happened. He has “moved on” and gotten busy doing what God called him to do. Is anything from your past hindering your ability to be completely available to God?
  2. If so, how do you think God would want you to deal with it? Why is it so hard sometimes to move on?

Daring Faith: Acts 3:1-26 (primarily Acts 3:1-10)
Peter and John encounter a familiar scene on their way to the temple to pray. A crippled man is being carried to the gate so he can beg for alms from people (Acts 3:2). Today is different than most other days; the disciples are now filled with boldness in their faith, like they never experienced while Jesus walked in the flesh. They look the man in the eyes and offer him something far better than silver or gold. Peter grabs his hand, pulls him to his feet before seeing any evidence of healing, and tells him to walk (Acts 3:7). Only then do the man’s ankles and legs grow strong. He walks, jumps, and praises God vocally and visibly.

It’s a very public miracle. People who have know this man for years are amazed at the sight. They are filled with wonder and awe, and Peter sees another opportunity. Again, he begins to preach.

  1. People all around you are hurting physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. How much of your reputation or your dignity would you be willing to risk to help them?
  2. How much faith do you have that your intervention can change their lives?
  3. Peter seized an opportunity to display the glory of Jesus. How diligently do you look for those kinds of opportunities?
  4. What is one act of faith you can do this week to help someone who’s hurting?

Courageous Leadership: Acts 5:1-10
Many believers are selling their possessions, pooling their resources, and sharing with each other so that no one would have any needs. It’s a remarkable reflection of the love of Christ in their lives. Though the generosity isn’t required of anyone, it’s a natural response to the Spirit’s presence.

But there are always those who try to see how little they can get by with. In this case, it’s a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira who boast greater generosity than they actually have. They secretly keep a portion of a land sale for themselves (Acts 5:1-2).

But there are no secrets with the Holy Spirit, and there is no room for a lack of integrity. The couple has lied to God, to Peter and the other leaders, and to the fellowship of believers (Acts 5:4). Unlike many later church leaders who would ignore the deception as a personal issue, Peter confronts the couple. When he bluntly exposes Ananias’ lie, the deceiver falls down dead (Acts 5:5). Later, his wife does the same when she is confronted (Acts 5:10). In these first days of the new church, integrity seems to be a vital issue both to the Spirit and to Peter.

  1. To what degree do you think the church today is known for its integrity?
  2. Do you think the Spirit does (or will) have as harsh a response to deception as he did with Ananias and Sapphira? Why or why not?
  3. How meticulous are you about your own integrity?
  4. Do you present yourself as more generous, loving, or honest than you really are? If so, why?