Background Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-12
Quote of the Week:
Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.
People hope for all sorts of things. Hope may be related to the weather or a sports team, or an outcome of a situation in life. When the lotteries get really high, we read about the lines of people that will form at stores for the slight chance to win a zillion dollars. (They don't seem to have the time when it is merely a few million). Most of the things that we hope for are things that we believe will enhance our situation in one way or another, here and now. It may be that we hope for something a few years in the distance, but most things we hope for are in this life (which is all we know by experience). The one thing that we know about specific situations and hope in life is that our hopes are often dashed. The weather doesn't hold for the big outdoor event. Our favorite sports team loses a heartbreaker. The company we have put our time and effort into for many years, lets people go with little notice. Relationships fail. People do end up with diseases and experience loss.
This set of lessons is taken from the book of 1 Peter. In this book, Peter wrote to encourage hope and steadfastness to a group of believers who were suffering for their faith. You can look at situations around the world where believers are risking their lives to practice their faith today. Thankfully, it hasn't yet come to that in our society and even the things that seem to be more difficult for believers here do not compare to fearing for our lives as they do elsewhere. A believer may be treated differently or isolated from others in their workplace, but that treatment does not normally involve personal injury. Some have lost their jobs for taking a stand for their faith, but even that happens rarely.
In a time when things are changing so often, where can you find security? Surely you can find peace and joy in being a believer, but we know that problems in our lives are not avoidable for a believer. People look to other people for security - a parent, a friend, a pastor or others and hope for a sense of security. Many believe that security is all about having money in the bank. It does help to have access to money, but all of that money could be depleted in an instant in the case of a major illness. Money may help you to pay your bills and stay warm in the winter, but money will not give you security in life. Jobs are great to have, but they aren't the answer to security. Where can you find hope today? 1 Peter 1:1-2 This book is written by Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Can you imagine what it must have been like to walk and talk with Jesus on a daily basis for three years? Just as you would do with anybody, over the course of spending time with them, you likely talk about a variety of things. With the impact that Jesus had on Peter's life, you would have to believe that he had a much different perspective after spending three years in ministry with Jesus and even a greater appreciation for what God can do.
This book was written to God's elect, those chosen by God. There is an age old debate among many believers about the idea of predestination and free will. I believe that God's choosing was brought out for us to realize how special our relationship with Him truly is. When we think of God's choosing, we naturally tend to focus on whether or not He would choose someone else. It is clear in Scripture that God plays the key role in a person coming to faith, but it is also clear that there is the notion of free will. Other than to say that we are part of God's eternal plan, this lesson will say no more on this issue. We must understand it wasn't an accident that we end up in a relationship with God. From a human standpoint, we may be seen as strangers, but from God's viewpoint, we are chosen and special.
The recipients were believers, but they were in exile, scattered throughout many different provinces. The words continue to be for believers everywhere today, in many churches, geographic locations and different cultures. Sometimes, we tend to think of God's word as only applicable to us and our church. However, God's word is applicable for believers around the world. These were people just like us. None of them were perfect believers - they didn't have preferred status, but they were in the process of being sanctified, which is to be made holy and set apart. We, too, are called to be set apart by the work of the Spirit and then to be obedient to Jesus. This act of sanctification is a continual process and we will never approach perfection. As we struggle with different areas of life, we may question ourselves, but we should never question the work of God.
Even though we know that being a believer does not exempt us from problems, you wouldn't think that He would allow chaos in our lives, would He? If you watch the news reports from all around the world, you would have to come to the realization that the world "seems" to be spinning out of control. We need to realize that not any of this catches God by surprise. We know that many things will happen before Jesus returns and I truly believe that we are seeing some of those end time things right now.
To these people who are experiencing suffering, Peter offers grace and peace in abundance. As believers, we know the grace of Christ, but how can we know peace in the midst of chaos? From a human standpoint, it doesn't even seem possible. However, we know that even in the midst of conflicts and hostilities, we can find peace. We know that in the midst of suffering of all types, we can find some measure of peace through Christ. Perhaps you could provide a testimony to someone else about how you knew that God was with you in a chaotic situation. This is a key benefit of our faith. It doesn't mean that God will pull you out of your problems, but that He will be with you in the midst of them and perhaps you can use that experience to encourage others in similar situations. 1 Peter 1:3-5 Peter writes that the praise should be to God. It isn't as if we have a hard time praising others today. In fact, we find it very easy to praise others. Some parents praise their kids for the things they do. Many people get caught up in the fervor of sports teams. Others praise celebrities, musicians and even politicians. It isn't a bad thing to applaud things that people have done, but anything that any person does pales in comparison to what God has done for us.
We truly ought to be giving praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Have you thought about what you have been given in Jesus Christ? None of us deserves a relationship with God, but through Jesus Christ, we have not only been given mercy (which is not getting what we deserve), but we have also been given grace (which is getting what we definitely don't deserve). A story is told about a father wanting to teach his son about grace and mercy of God. The son had disobeyed his father and as a punishment was ordered to stay in his bedroom for three hours. But after an hour the father went into the boy's room and told him he could now come out. He then took the boy down to the local supermarket and bought him an ice cream cone. Letting him off his punishment was mercy, but the ice cream was definitely grace! God goes way beyond mercy and gives us grace. We understand God's mercy through the forgiveness of sins, even though we do not deserve it, nor could we ever hope to earn it in our lifetime. We know of God's grace in that we are not only forgiven, but we are given the hope of eternal life.
We have been birthed into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the foundation of our faith. As stated in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19, everything we believe is hinged on the resurrection of Christ. If you take out the details of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Bible falls apart. Our hope is more than a possibility, but it is the certainty or expectancy of something good.
We have been given an eternal inheritance. You have likely heard of family feuds over earthly inheritance, whether it involves money, land, houses and other possessions. People fight over things that are here but for a short period of time in the grand scheme of things, and are certainly not going to last the test of time. It would seem that many people care much more about the temporary nature of here and now than they do for eternity. We are told that our eternal inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade. It is not secured by the government or under the control of even the best financial advisor. It is safeguarded in heaven for us until the coming of the end times. Our salvation is not based on our family background, our church or our good works, but in God alone. It is only His inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade.
God shields us until the coming of age. We continue (or at least we should continue) to grow in Him towards some sense of finalization. Ask yourself if you feel you have grown closer to God in the past week, month, year or several years. We all have peaks and valleys, but are you growing closer to God through it all? Sometimes, people want to partition their Christian walk away from the rest of their life. When we do this, it is as if we are saying that we are able to control those parts of our life and instead of drawing closer to God, we tend to fall further away. 1 Peter 1:6-9 In all types of trials and suffering, we are told to rejoice. This is really difficult for us to do. It seems easy to talk about it in high level terms, but what happens when you personally encounter tears, heartache and loss in life. Within the past few weeks, I know of many who have lost close family members. Many people have been dealing with grief and mourning, which seems far from rejoicing. It is important that people grieve when grieving is needed. We need to be careful about putting on the 'godly' hat and telling someone that they should rejoice when they have suffered loss. Sooner or later, we realize that God was with us, but we can easily push people further from God from being too 'spiritual' in their time of need.
It is relatively easy for us to bear (or at least understand) suffering when we have done something wrong. We probably don't like to deal with consequences for our actions, but we understand why we suffer for those things. . However, what happens when you suffer for doing the right thing? What happens when you take a stand for your faith, and you meet resistance? What happens when others lie about you and attempt to destroy your character maliciously? There are several possible reactions. The natural reaction, which is understandable, is to retaliate and seek revenge. There is something inside of each of us that thinks that will make us feel better. (We often find out that it doesn't solve much of anything). Some people use suffering in these times to do some self examination. They may find that God is using that to help them understand where they may be out of God's will in other areas. Some people tend to abandon their faith. They quit going to church or associating with other believers, because they feel duped by God and by other 'godly' people. However, none of us can even begin to understand the suffering that Jesus experienced. His response was to turn that unfair treatment over to God and let him deal with it, which is a very difficult thing for any of us to do.
One of the things that people have a hard time understanding is our undying loyalty to what is not seen. Some people just think believers are loony and are using their faith as a crutch. They may assume that we believe something akin to fairy tales and are entirely gullible. Peter was an apostle and he had seen Jesus on a daily basis for an extended period of time. Even though Peter was with Jesus and saw miracles firsthand, he still struggled with doubt. However, Peter realized that the readers of this letter hadn't seen Jesus or spent time with them and he respected their faith in what they had not seen.
The impact of our salvation is that it should bring great joy to believers. What do you do when you have experienced great joy? We can't wait to tell others about something we have seen or someplace we have been. We want them to experience some sense of what we had experienced. True joy that impacts a person will be shared with others, in one form or another. Would others that you work around or that you see on a regular basis say that you have the joy of your salvation? Sadly, too many believers want to hide the fact of their salvation, so that they will not be treated differently. Would you say that others know where you stand in regards to your faith? 1 Peter 1:10-12 The Old Testament prophets wrote and spoke concerning salvation. Salvation was sought by people of many generations. It is interesting to think of how the prophets were able to write in great detail about the coming of the Messiah. It would not happen for generations to come, yet the prophecy is remarkably accurate. It is truly amazing when you begin to understand the role of fulfilled prophecy in Scripture, especially when the prophecies were written so many generations early. It is obvious that the Spirit of God had to be involved in the lives of the prophets. They were imperfect people prophesying of salvation, of which they knew nothing. Although they didn't fully understand or comprehend what they wrote, they were open to the leading of the Spirit. For generations following, people searched Scripture to determine the meaning of God's word. Now, Scripture can be very clear as we have many resources at our disposal to help us better understand. Yet, many people are very lackadaisical in seeking God, as opposed to following almost anything else.
It is important for us to realize that the entirety of the Bible was given to us and is related to our salvation. Some people want to pick and choose what they believe in the Bible, treating it more like a buffet, choosing the parts that are most palatable to them. It is important to realize that our faith is based on the Bible alone and not another person for another revelation. Several cults have strayed - including Mary Baker Eddy and the Christian Science movement, Charles Russell and the Jehovah's Witness movement, and Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, among others who were part of the Mormon movement. (The Book of Mormon has over 3900 revisions from the original text, which involve many changes in doctrine, as opposed to spelling and translation). There are many others who base their faith on other writings and people who have also strayed from Scripture. Our salvation is to be based upon the gospel of God. It is not to be altered by any other person, no matter how well trained they appear to be. Closing Do you realize that the Bible is not to be read as fictional or as words to somebody else? The words of Scripture are truly life, applicable for each of us. In the Bible, we learn of the amazing gift of salvation that has been given to those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ. If you don't seek Jesus as your Savior, the Bible is good for guidance, but it will not alter your life for eternity.
We know that we will all encounter suffering and trials in this life. It is part of being human. However, we know that we can experience grace and peace, even in the midst of very difficult circumstances. It is our prayer that as you read these next few lessons, you will truly see the validity of Scripture and you will allow it to impact your life.
As always, if you have any specific questions or a desire to know more, please send us an email - and we would be more than happy to speak with you.