How to Keep from Stumbling

By the time we get to Acts chapter 11, Paul (Saul at the time) is reintroduced into the story. It was really a turning point in his ministry because after the Jews sought to kill him, Paul headed back to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30). We know that he went to Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:21) but it was five years from the time he left for Tarsus and we pick up in Acts 11. Some scholars call this the missing years of Paul. Let’s consider what might have happened during this time.

God told Ananias that He would show Saul how much he must suffer for His sake (Acts 9:16), and God began to bring this into focus right away. Paul writes about his life of hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-27); prison, floggings, five times he received 40 lashes, beatings, a stoning, lost at sea, constantly on the move, danger in the city, the country, at sea and from false brothers, gone without sleep, been hungry, thirsty, cold and naked. God wasn’t kidding about the suffering. A lot of the persecution is not recorded in the book of Acts so perhaps these sufferings took place during these missing years.

Persecution scattered the early believers and those in Antioch were faithful, so much so that many people came to faith in Christ (Acts 11:21). When God desires to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), He generally seeks out a remnant of righteous followers who usually don’t conform to what others might expect. These types don’t really care about popularity or tradition. The news from Antioch eventually reached the leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:22) and when they came to see for themselves, they saw evidence of God’s grace (Acts 11:23).

One of my favorite characters in the New Testament, Barnabas, encouraged the believers to remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23); to basically plan in advance to remain faithful to Christ. It is a practical reality that the most effective time to resolve to be obedient to Christ is in advance of the persecution or difficulty. It’s hard to make up your mind to be faithful in times of trouble or temptation at the time you’re going through it. A conviction ahead of time settles the issue and allows us to remain strong when the world around us tells us to compromise.

Application: People may not be trying to kill you, beat you or otherwise harm you, but it would make many people happy to see someone who claims to be a follower of Christ stumble and fall to a moral failure, or compromise in some area that required integrity, or give in to some vice or habit that is left over from the old way of life. How will you stand when those around you fall? We stand tall when we are on our knees (in prayer).

As we seek God and strive to follow His direction in life, we can determine ahead of time how we will respond to temptations, how to flee from the trap set by the enemy (1 Peter 5:8). That’s what conviction is all about. After I was able to develop a settled faith, no one has been able to sway me into compromise or to consider that Christ is not the ultimate reality in my life. It’s not that I am immune to personal failure (I’m only human and I know the darkness that lurks within), but I have certain convictions of right and wrong that do not cause me confusion in the midst of these temptations. Heeding the encouragement of Barnabas, I have resolved to be obedient to Christ in advance of the persecution, difficulty or temptation. By God’s grace I am able to trust that He will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). How about you? Do you need someone to whom you will be accountable to remain pure? It’s imperative that you enter into relationships with godly men who will hold you accountable and encourage you when you are ready to give in or give up.

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.

Christians Loving People

Here are the questions we can expect on Sunday for the lesson on First Peter 3:8-22. I will follow up on July 11 with a lesson on “Suffering for Doing Good.”

REFLECTION
Describe a time when someone demonstrated Christ’s love to you in a practical way.

BIBLE READING: Read 1 Peter 3:8–22.
(1 Peter 3:8-12 – To live a holy life requires Christian unity. The unity of believers results from right attitudes, indicated in 1 Peter 3:8. Peter then quotes from Psalm 34:12-16 to remind the readers that God favors right conduct).

DISCOVERY

  1. How should we treat each other? (1 Peter 3:8-9 – about eight characteristics are listed, notice the parallel with the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-28)
  2. When is it most difficult to demonstrate a loving attitude toward others? (There could be many angles to this discussion: when you have been hurt, when the person is difficult, when you are sick, when the person is an enemy, when you are bitter, etc. You may want to continue the discussion until you have covered as many angles as possible).
  3. Describe the kind of person who enjoys life and pleases God. (If this question makes you think of someone you’ve known, you may want to open the discussion by telling about that person or telling about an incident you experienced with them).
  4. Why is it better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong? (we should expect to suffer if we do wrong, but those who suffer for righteousness or doing good, they are blessed by God, 1 Peter 3:14, 17).
  5. What difference does Christ’s resurrection make in how we treat others? (Remember all he had gone through for our sake, so why is our momentary suffering anything in comparison? We can stand tall in suffering knowing we will be raised at the right time).

INSPIRATION
Here is an uplifting thought from The Inspirational Study Bible.

In our house we call 5:00 p.m. the piranha hour. That’s the time of day when everyone wants a piece of Mom. Sara, the baby, is hungry. Andrea wants Mom to read her a book. Jenna wants help with her homework. And I—the ever-loving, ever-sensitive husband—want Denalyn to drop everything and talk to me about my day.

When is your piranha hour? When do people in your world demand much and offer little?

Every boss has had a day in which the requests outnumber the results. There’s not a businessperson alive who hasn’t groaned as an armada of assignments docks at his or her desk. For the teacher, the piranha hour often begins when the first student enters and ends when the last student leaves.

Piranha hours: parents have them, bosses endure them, secretaries dread them, teachers are besieged by them, and Jesus taught us how to live through them successfully.

When hands extended and voices demanded, Jesus responded with love. He did so because the code within him disarmed the alarm. The code is worth noting: “People are precious.”

(From In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado)

RESPONSE

  1. When is your “piranha hour”? (You may want to also include in this discussion what it feels like when everyone wants a piece of you. What are some typical stress reactions for your group members?)
  2. How can we find the strength to love people, even when they have nothing to give in return? Consider what angle 1 John 4:19 puts on this discussion (we love because he first loved us), or 1 John 3:16 (we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren).
  3. In what way can you remind yourself of Christ’s example the next time you feel overwhelmed by the demands of others? (Scripture memory, visualization of the cross, remember your own sinfulness and the fact of Christ’s suffering…).

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS

  1. What kinds of issues create tension and conflict between believers?
  2. What practical steps can we take to promote harmony in the Body of Christ?
  3. What does it mean to work for peace?

For more Bible passages on loving people, see Matthew 5:43–48; 22:38–40; John 13:34–35; Romans 12:9–10; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13; Galatians 5:13–14; Colossians 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 16–18; 4:7–21; 2 John 5–6.

In His Steps

We are called to follow the example that Jesus set for us. I remember the classic book by Charles Sheldon called, “In His Steps” which describes how the Reverend Henry Maxwell and his congregation were forced to consider the question, “What would Jesus do?” and its consequences. No one in town was left untouched by this brief and probing question. These people learn the answer is to walk in In His Steps.

Opening Questions:

  1. Growing up, who was the authority figure in your family?
  2. How was disobedience handled?
  3. In this section, we will see that the saints have various duties toward the government, their work and suffering.
  4. What does Peter say in 1 Peter 2:11-12 that helps to set the stage for this passage?

Reflecting Questions:

  1. Think of a fellow believer whom you greatly admire. In what ways would you like to model your life after that person’s example?
  2. Why didn’t Jesus feel any need to seek revenge? You may want to read an additional passage about Christ’s willingness to suffer (Isaiah 53:1-12).
  3. Why is it important for us to lead good lives?
  4. Why should we yield to authorities?
  5. What happens when believers endure suffering for doing good? Additional passages to explore include Matthew 5:11-12, Romans 5:1-5, James 5:10-11.
  6. What can we learn from Jesus about responding to unfair treatment? You may want to review some times when Jesus was unfairly treated in life as well as death – He healed a man, but was criticized because it was on the Sabbath (John 5:7–18); several times the Pharisees set out to trick him (Matthew 22:15–21; John 8:2–8).
  7. How do we tend to react when others hurt us?
  8. In what way does Christ’s example affect the way you view your problems and pain?
  9. How can our emotional wounds interfere with our spiritual growth? How do emotional wounds affect our ability to trust? to love? to obey? to hope?
  10. In what circumstances is it tempting to retaliate?
  11. When has God helped you forgive someone who hurt you deeply?
  12. How can you fight the urge to get back at people who mistreat you?

For more Bible passages on following Jesus’ example, see John 8:12; 12:26; 13:15; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1–2; 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

Here is an uplifting thought from Max Lucado:
The disciples are annoyed. As Jesus sits in silence, they grow more smug. “Send her away,” they demand. The spotlight is put on Jesus. He looks at the disciples, then looks at the woman. And what follows is one of the most intriguing dialogues in the New Testament.
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” he says.
“Lord, help me!”
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” he answers.
“But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables,” she responds.
Is Jesus being rude? Is he worn-out? Is he frustrated? Is he calling this woman a dog? How do we explain this dialogue?…
Could it be that Jesus’ tongue is poking his cheek? Could it be that he and the woman are engaging in satirical banter? Is it wry exchange in which God’s unlimited grace is being highlighted? Could Jesus be so delighted to have found one who is not bartering with a religious system or proud of a heritage that he can’t resist a bit of satire?
He knows he can heal her daughter. He knows he isn’t bound by a plan. He knows her heart is good. So he decides to engage in a humorous moment with a faithful woman. In essence, here’s what they said:
“Now, you know that God only cares about Jews,” he says smiling.
And when she catches on, she volleys back, “But your bread is so precious, I’ll be happy to eat the crumbs.”
In a spirit of exuberance, he bursts out, “Never have I seen such faith! Your daughter is healed.”
This story does not portray a contemptuous God. It portrays a willing One who delights in a sincere seeker.
Aren’t you glad he does?

(From In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado)

Bible Study Questions:

  1. Find several examples of submission in this passage. What is difficult about each?
  2. How are Christians to act toward governmental authority? Why are they to treat governing leaders with respect (1 Peter 2:13-15)?
  3. When the word “submit” is used in the New Testament, it is voluntary in nature. How is this different from other interpretations of the word today?
  4. How could the teachings of 1 Peter 2:16-17 keep you from being a “muddy doormat” to the government?
  5. What connection does the text point out between Christ’s suffering and a Christian’s submission in the situation of slavery (1 Peter 2:18-21)?
  6. What is Peter’s response to one whose master is not a Christian or is just a difficult person (1 Peter 2:18)?
  7. What are the effects of Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 2:22-25)?
  8. Jesus “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). How might a similar trust in God help you to submit to the necessary suffering that has come into your life?
  9. Slowly read the words of 1 Peter 2:24, substituting your name for the appropriate pronouns. In what specific ways have you seen Christ’s work here played out in your own experience?
  10. How does Christ’s death result in both an ending and a beginning in our lives (1 Peter 2:24)?
  11. In Peter’s day, persecution and slavery made submission to authority difficult. What conditions today make it difficult?
  12. How can Jesus’ example help you face hardships you can’t change?
  13. What should people do whose rights are being violated by authority gone bad (accept, suffer, insist on justice, sue, confront the authority)? (see also Mark 11:15-16, 15:1-15, Acts 16:35-37).

Called to be Different

Purpose of this lesson is to lead us to respond to God’s gift of salvation with holy imitation of Jesus.

Being a Christian shapes us, often in surprising ways. We discover God-given strengths and use them in ways we never imagined. But we also discover our flaws and learn the painful effort of overcoming those sins. God calls his people to be different: different from what they would be if they did not believe in Jesus and different from the unbelievers around them.

  1. How did you get ready for exams in school? (Kept up, Cram, Good night sleep).
  2. Who was your best coach? How did this person help prepare you and help you excel?
  3. What surprising strengths (or weaknesses) have you discovered in yourself as part of your Christian growth?
  4. Think of a Christian (living or dead) you admire. In what ways has that person practiced holy living? Pray, thanking God for his or her influence in your life.

Peter opens this section of his letter with the warning to “prepare your minds for action.” Go ahead and read 1 Peter 1:13-25.

1. What mental and physical actions should a follower of Christ pursue?

2. Peter lists several ways that followers of Jesus ought to respond to his gift of salvation. Define each of these responses more fully (1 Peter 1:13, 14, 15, 16). Can you spot the five commands?
Gird your ___________________________. Girding or preparing: meaning the ancient practice of gathering up one’s robes when needing to move in a hurry; here, it is metaphorically applied to one’s thought process. The meaning is to pull in all the loose ends of one’s thinking, by rejecting the hindrances of the world and focusing on the future grace of God (Ephesians 6:14; Colossians 3:2).
Keep ____________________ in spirit. Spiritual sober-mindedness includes the ideas of steadfastness, self-control, clarity of mind, and moral decisiveness. The sober Christian is correctly in charge of his priorities and not intoxicated with the various allurements of the world.
Fix your ___________________________ on future grace. In light of their great salvation, Christians, especially those undergoing suffering, should passionately live for the future, anticipating the consummation of their salvation at the second coming of Christ (see 1 Peter 1:7, Colossians 3:2-4). Christ’s future ministry of glorifying Christians and giving them eternal life in His presence will be the final culmination of the grace initiated at salvation (Ephesians 2:7).
Do not be ___________________________ to the former lusts. This is very similar to the Pauline command of not conforming to this world (Romans 12:2).
Be _________________ in all your behavior. What does it mean to be holy? Holiness essentially defines the Christian’s new nature and conduct in contrast with his pre-salvation lifestyle. The reason for practicing a holy manner of living is that Christians are associated with the holy God and must treat Him and His Word with respect and reverence. We therefore glorify Him best by being like Him (1 Peter 1:16, 17; Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 5:1; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 18:30; 19:2; 20:7; 21:6-8).

3. Select one of these responses above. If you were to put that response on the front burner of your priorities, what changes would you have to make in your life?

4. 1 Peter 1:15 says, “Be holy in all you do.” How might an honest attempt to be holy by God’s standards improve your relationships with people close to you? In what situations might it make you more like a stranger (1 Peter 1:17)?

5. Why does Peter tell us that we ought to live in “reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17)? Why would Peter tell these persecuted believers that God is their judge and they should live in fear? Holy living is motivated by a God-fearing faith that does not presume upon the redemption that was purchased at so great a cost (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

6. What events from the past would help the recipients of Peter’s letter to appreciate God’s concern for them (1 Peter 1:18-21)? Examine the following past events noted:
“You were redeemed” (1 Peter 1:18) – meaning to buy back someone from bondage by the payment of a price; to set free by paying a ransom. “Redemption” was a technical term for money paid to buy back a prisoner of war. Here it is used of the price paid to buy the freedom of one in the bondage of sin and under the curse of the law (eternal death, Galatians 3:13). The price paid to a holy God was the shed blood of His own Son (Exodus 12:1-13; 15:13; Psalm 78:35; Acts 20:28; Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4, 5; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:11-17).
“The empty way of life [was] handed down to you” (1 Peter 1:18) – Meaning the old Law system was empty; also we recognize that the old life we used to live was empty.
“He was chosen before the creation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20) – Meaning in eternity past, before Adam and Eve sinned, God planned the redemption of sinners through Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; 2 Timothy 1:9).
He “was revealed” (1 Peter 1:20) – Meaning at the end of the law, He appeared from heaven to rescue us from our former way of life. Peter wants to impress us even more deeply with the importance of making a clean break with the world system from which Christ died to deliver us. We are in the world but not of it. We must not isolate ourselves from unbelievers, but rather carry the gospel to them. Yet in our dealings and relationships with them, we must never share in or condone their sins. We are to show by our lives that we are children of God. The moment we become like the world, our testimony is weakened. There is no incentive for lost people to be converted if they cannot see a difference, a change for the better in our lives.
“You became believers in God” (1 Peter 1:21) – Meaning, as W. T. P. Wolston said: “It is not by creation nor providence nor law that man knows God, but by Christ.”
“God … raised him from the dead and glorified him” (1 Peter 1:21) – Meaning God, through the ascension, returned Christ to the glory that He had with Him before the world began (Luke 24:51-53; John 17:4, 5; Acts 1:9-11; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:9).
Each of these events from the past had a bearing on the current condition of those who received Peter’s letter.

7. What is a good test to see if one really has a change of heart (1 Peter 1:22)? How could the conditions that Peter describes in 1 Peter 1:21-25 promote sincere love among Christians?
O_________________ to the truth.
P_________________ of the soul.
S____________ and F_____________ love for one another.
B_________________, imperishable.

8. In speaking of a Christian’s relationships, Peter drew a contrast between “love for your brothers” and being “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1, 17, 22). How is loving deeply and actively possible? When have you felt sheltered by a family kind of love among believers?

9. What contrasts do you see in 1 Peter 1:21-25 between what is temporary and what is enduring?
Temporary                                           Enduring
all people (1 Peter 1:24)                     new birth (1 Peter 1:23)
flowers (1 Peter 1:24)                         Word of God (1 Peter 1:23, 25)
grass (1 Peter 1:24)
glory of men (1 Peter 1:24)

10. Peter links the Word of God with salvation and new birth (Compare 1 Peter 1:10, 12, 23, 25). What do you think Peter means when he says that this Word is “enduring” and “stands forever?”
Try to understand the flow of Peter’s reasoning. These verses trace God’s redeeming work from the age of the prophets who searched for information about Christ’s coming (but did not themselves experience it). They “served” the believers of Peter’s era with their preparation. It was part of the “imperishable seed” presented to the new Christian church (the “word” that Peter preached).

11. The readers of Peter’s letter learned of God’s gift of salvation because it was preached to them. How have you learned about it?

12. If you were trying to convey to someone else the value of new birth in your life, what would you want that person to know?

13. Are you more like a pilgrim, an explorer or a land owner on this earth?

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