1 Peter - Lesson 7
By Curt Niccum
1 Peter 2:11-25
Background Information for the Teacher
- The class will accept the challenge of standing up for what is right among people who do not have the same values or belief system.
- The class will discuss the radical demands of discipleship required of being Christ-like, even to the point of death.
- The class will recognize that as citizens of the heavenly kingdom (resident aliens) we have responsibilities to worldly governments, and that as slaves to our heavenly master we have also responsibilities to earthly masters.
- The class will realize that there can be joy in suffering.
- Bibles for every student
- Copies of worksheet for lesson #7
- If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.
Concerned about the impact of persecution on the church, Peter writes 1) to assure the Christians of their place in God’s kingdom and 2) to urge them to live as members of that kingdom rather than to capitulate to the surrounding culture. Peter employs a traditional form (the Household Code) for discussing family relationships within the Roman Empire. The use of this and other language like “resident aliens” and “God’s slaves” continues to provide assurance about the Christian’s place in God’s kingdom. Citizens of God’s kingdom, though, must resist the pressure to conform to the world. The standard for Christian activity is Christ.
Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class
Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)
- Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
- Sing at least two songs (you may choose from the following)
- Pierce My Ear
- I Want to Know Christ
- Trust and Obey
- I am a Stranger Here
- Read 1 Peter 2:11-25.
- Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
- For the newly baptized, that they might find the strength to follow in Christ’s footsteps
- For Prison Ministries where the message of the cross confronts a hostile culture
- For the courage to discern what is right and to do it (including in our relationship with our worldly government)
- For stronger families because the strength of God’s kingdom is related to their strength.
Introduction (2 minutes)
- Welcome visitors.
- Distribute study sheets.
Review (10 minutes)
- Have the class list some of the language that Peter used to contrast God’s people with the outside world in 2:4-10.
- Living versus dead
- Honor versus shame
- Belief versus unbelief
- Light versus darkness
- Being God’s people versus being no people at all
- Receiving God’s mercy versus not receiving it
- Using one or two real or hypothetical situations, discuss first how a non-Christian might react and then how a Christian should act. The following are possibilities. Some will be more appropriate to certain age groups than others.
- Traffic incidents - these usually work well since they are relatively minor things but generate an inordinate amount of animosity
- Business theft - this occurs frequently and is generally viewed as acceptable by culture and even expected by companies
- Cheating - over 60% of students today feel cheating on tests and assignments is warranted
- Remind the class of Travel Tip #6. Peter uses the HouseholdCode as a teaching tool. The Household Code served as a standard definition of ideal family relationships that would provide a stronger empire.
- Both Paul and Peter make use of these Codes. In a sense, they reinforce the importance of the Christian family for the strength of God’s kingdom.
- Peter, however, alters the typical approach. Typically relationships are normally discussed in pairs (husband-wife,parent-child, master-slave) and the responsibilities of each group are fairly balanced. Peter’s focus is more one-sided. Since his concern is with Christian relations toward outsiders, he mentions those relationships open for abuse by non-Christians. Therefore he mentions citizen-government, slave master, and believing wife-nonbelieving husband relationships (This is probably why the parent-child pairing is missing.).
- The strength of the kingdom, though, still relates to the strength of Christians in these relationships. To phrase it somewhat better, the ability to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to live in the same manner as he died, reflects the strength of God’s kingdom here on earth. In a sense, the kingdom is only as strong as its weakest family.
Learning Experiences (20 minutes)
- God’s kingdom, even here on earth, must remain strong. That is Peter’s main concern. The church’s distinctiveness from the world is one indicator of its strength. Peter begins this section with the Greek word translated “I urge” or “I exhort”(verse 11). This word is used regularly to demarcate the most important points in an ancient letter and also relates the request to what the author has previously stated. Thus, Peter’s main focus in this letter is that Christians should be distinct in this world by abstaining from “fleshly desires.” They cannot let the fleshly desires of their past existence impinge upon their spiritual status as “resident aliens” and “foreigners.” Q: What would you consider to be the fleshly desires about which Peter writes? A: (Of course, any number of answers here will be correct. You may want to be prepared to point out those that actually get discussed later in 1 Peter. [You can find almost every such desire listed in verses 3 and 15 of chapter four.] At the same time, you will want to move to the next point that there is a particularly dangerous “fleshly desire” that Peter must address in this situation, and yet it is not typically a desire that many Christians would identify as “fleshly.”)
- Peter realizes that especially in a world hostile to spiritual truth that one of the greatest “fleshly desires” is to practice “righteous indignation.” Although there are occasions when one can justly be angry (take the cleansing of the temple for example or Jesus’ and Paul’s condemnation of legalism), Christians frequently succumb to the temptation to “answer in kind.” It is very easy, for example, to lash out at the world’s criticism of our Christianity with scathing language of our own. Peter, though, contrast’s this fleshly desire with Jesus’ own actions at his trial and crucifixion. The Christian, as one who follows in the footsteps of Christ, must respond to “bad” (slanderous) language with “good” action. The goal of every action is to bring praise to God. This may not be the immediate result of our every action, but it will be the result in the end.
- The Household Code provides an easy way for Peter to offer specific examples of how this should work out in real life. Justas with Paul, the first command is to be subject to one another because of our relationship to the “Lord” Jesus Christ (see verse 13 and Ephesians 5:21). Every relationship finds its pattern in Jesus. Whereas Jesus becomes the pattern for internal Christian relationships in Paul’s letters, Peter focuses on Christian attitudes and actions toward outsiders. Thus, from this point on, Peter’s use of the code differs from Paul’s. Peter looks at three human relationships where earthly figures also have claims to the title “Lord.” Trouble can arise when these lordships compete.
- Q: Quickly skim over 2:13-3:1. What are the three earthly relationships that Peter discusses? A: Government (2:13; one of Caesar’s titles was “Lord”),slave-owners (2:18; the word for “master” and “lord”is the same in Greek), and husbands (3:1). Q: What term does Peter use to express the appropriate attitude Christians should have toward these “lords”? A:“Submit.”
- Peter first addresses the political relationship; how Christians live as resident aliens in a Roman (or, for that matter, an American) environment. Caesar certainly claimed lordship, and Peter writes that this claim must continue to be taken seriously by Christians. Resident aliens have responsibilities to the countries in which they reside. As a result, Christians must fulfill their obligations by doing what is good, for that is ultimately the purpose of government (verses 13-14; see also Romans 13:1-5). However, government does not always carry out the good. Foolish people, ignorant of God’s ways, will rebel against Him and sometimes influence even governmental decisions (verse 15). Regardless, the charge to Christians remains the same: Do that which is good. Peter then closes this first part with a reminder ofChristian priorities. The world and the emperor receive our honor, but our Christian brothers and sisters andGod receive love and respect (verse 17).1
- God is the one who defines what is good. That sometimes gives Christians the “freedom” to opt out of certain governmental obligations. On the other hand, more often than not Christians use freedom or loyalty to God as an excuse for not doing what is right or even for doing evil (verse 16).
- Jesus, of course, stands as the concrete example of what “good” should be done in the face of government opposition (see 2:21-25). Many believers, though, have a hard time accepting this.
- A discussion about paying taxes might underscore the difficulty of putting this into practice. Many Christians consider it an act of holiness either not to pay taxes or to cheat on them. 1 Peter uses a chiasm here to order the priorities. Yet paying taxes to an evil regime (which Rome was) still is an act of holiness for it encompasses self-sacrifice for the benefit of others (society as a whole). (See also Romans13.)
- Because of the size of government and its lack of close, personal relationships, the “fleshly desire” is to not submit to the demands of government when it proves inconvenient to me.
- Peter’s reminder that we are enslaved to God provides the transition into the next level of human lordship that can be at odds with that of Christ. In verses 18-25 Peter examines the slave-master relationship and appears to use it also to address the principles under which all Christians, not just slaves, should submit to those having a semblance of authority here on earth.
- Slave owners have total control over their slaves. Despite the real value of all human life, some people view certain humans as mere commodities or possessions. Now this need not be restricted in our culture to slavery, for this same attitude can be found in some job situations (professional sports for example) and in some marriages. In other cultures, slavery itself still exists. Because of the power wielded, each situation offers plenty of opportunities for abuse. How do Christians properly respond? Christians live lives of submission regardless of how people treat them.
- On the other hand, God’s definition of “good” qualifies how far one can submit. Our primary relationship is with our heavenly master. It seems odd that Peter talks of slaves being punished for doing good (verse 20). What master will punish a slave for doing what he commanded the slave to do? Obviously Christian slaves occasionally had to defy earthly masters because their owners’ demands were in opposition to the commands of the heavenly Lord. Slaves suffered the consequences for doing the good. In such cases, those unjustly punished receive a greater reward, favor (literally “grace”) from God. The “fleshly desire,” though, was to submit to unethical demands because of personal convenience (the avoidance of punishment). It might be worth noting that slaves could hold a number of different positions within a household with varying degrees of authority. It was not unusual for slaves to be put in charge of running the family’s business(es). In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) slaves are entrusted with extremely large sums of money and held accountable for their management of those funds.
- Christians are called into a distinctly different relationship to, and thus with, the world (2:21-25). Peter reminds his readers of Christ’s own distinction by interweaving quotes from Isaiah 53 with descriptions of Jesus’ own attitude and actions when faced with worldly opposition. Christ’s suffering was not just for the forgiveness of our sins, but for the example of how we should live. Two ideas surface in this section:
- Christ suffered for us, and now we have an opportunity to suffer for him (see Acts 5:41).
- Just as Christ’s suffering brought healing, sometimes our own suffering can bring about a similar result. This provides the transition into the third category of lordshipPeter will discuss, wife-husband. As we will see in the next lesson,doing good in the face of evil can bring others to Christ (3:1-2).
- This section can be summarized in this fashion: In our dealings with the world, we must act in such a way as to accomplish the good, imitate Christ, and glorify God.
Application (15 minutes)
- Peter’s teaching certainly flies in the face of American culture. Americans typically define happiness as an absence of pain. This worldly definition unfortunately finds its way into the church. A frequent excuse given for not exercising the self sacrifice modeled by Christ is the phrase “God just wants me to be happy.” This is Christian “freedom” being used as a disguise for evil (3:16). Peter encourages us to see the joy that can be found in suffering.
- Peter holds Christ up as an example to be imitated. Have the class share stories of those who have followed in Jesus’ footsteps. Particularly encourage the sharing of stories about members of the congregation who have shown Christian integrity or exemplified self-sacrifice in a contrary world.
- Challenge the class members to reflect on their attitudes and behaviors over the last week. Do not ask for a show of hands or specific examples, but do suggest the need to make amends for any situation that was handled improperly.
- Challenge the class to consciously attempt to imitate Christ in the coming week.
- Close by reading 1 Peter 2:21-25.
Assignment (2-5 minutes)
- Each member should read 1 Peter 3:1-7.
- Members should be prepared at the next meeting to share about any opportunities they had during the week to do “good.”
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