Sabbath School Lesson for April 29-May 5, 2017
Last week Peter talked about service for God’s glory, what it means to live for Him. Now the topic reluctantly addresses suffering for God’s glory, what our service often includes as well. Both service and suffering require submission, which Peter has also dwelt on previously in his epistle.
What we discover is that suffering and trials are part of our service. When we follow Christ, we can expect persecution and the suffering it brings, just as Jesus Himself experienced here on earth.
Even Jesus found the submission required to be difficult in the end though. The blood that came pouring out of His pores as sweat occurred as Jesus prayed that final night in the Garden of Gethsemane. He, like us, questioned how much He could endure, and begged for His load to be lifted, if possible.
Only when our Lord expressed His heartfelt desire for God’s will to be done was His burden lifted and strength given for the trial that lay ahead.
Scripture Gem: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” 1 Peter 2:21 NKJV
Many have called chapter 4 in 1 Peter his key chapter. Indeed, it expresses the vital reasons we suffer for God. We will also note that his entire letter begins and ends with mention of the trials we encounter on the path of Christianity.
1 Peter 1:6, 7 says that they had been “grieved by various trials”, “tested by fire”, as it were. And 1 Peter 5:10 once again brings out that they were called to “have suffered for a while”. In addition, there are three long passages about suffering and persecution within the letter.
We must conclude that persecution comes with the territory of being a true Christian. It should not take us unawares, even in countries that now enjoy a measure of religious freedom. Often, when conversions occur, family members and friends turn against us, or at best, simply shut us out of their lives. These painful experiences may be included in Peter’s counsel, and will be increased, as the end of time draws nearer. See Luke 12:51-53.
- How can we gracefully treat those who have made themselves our enemies?
- Why does God allow any kind of suffering to those He loves?
- What purpose do trials have in the long run?
These kind of questions will be explored this week.
Sunday: Persecution of Early Christians
The whole theme of Peter’s first epistle seems to be an attempt to deal with the threats of outside persecution of the early church. Although history tells us that these trials were just beginning, Peter attempts to prepare them for the widening, severe persecutions that took place under the reigns of Nero and Domitian later in the first century.
Two of the regions, Pontus and Bithynia, that Peter mentions in the introduction of his letter, were governed by Pliny (111-113 A.D.). There have been letters found by this governor, written to the Roman Emperor Trajan, concerning what should be done with the believers in this relatively new sect, who are calling themselves Christians. Pliny reported that he had already executed some of them, and others, who had recanted, were forced to worship the emperor and other pagan gods.
These letters from Pliny support Peter’s concern for the continued existence of Christ’s church, which was becoming increasingly threatened with harsh treatment by the Roman authorities. Although it was beginning to happen on local levels, it eventually became a threat to all God’s true followers throughout the Empire.
Discussion Questions: Read 1 Peter 1:6 and 5:10. What advice do we find in these verses at the beginning and end of Peter’s epistle? How are we to deal with trials, especially those brought on by our religious beliefs?
Read 1 Peter 2:12, 3:8, 9, and 4:14. How should we bear our trials? How is God glorified through our suffering, even when it is not related to our religion?
Read Philippians 2:15 and Matthew 5:11, 15, 16. What is the purpose of letting our light shine? How are we, and others, blessed when we bear our trials this way?
Monday: Suffering and the Example of Christ
We should not waste too much time on the question of why we suffer. Far more important is understanding HOW Christ suffered, so we can follow His example. What were the hallmarks of Christ’s suffering? How can we make His ways of coping our own?
We do find ample counsel from Peter to do all we can to live an exemplary, righteous life. This not only lessens the chances of our being persecuted, but having a good conscience is definitely a beneficial coping strategy, when we are targeted for mistreatment or abuse.
This is not to say that God isn’t willing to help us when we find ourselves suffering the consequences of our bad choices in life. But it may be easier to find the needed strength, when we have already been following Jesus in our lifestyle, before our suffering began.
The words of Peter in 1 Peter 3:13-22 tell us to…
- not be afraid or troubled by threats–remember you are blessed through your suffering (v. 14)
- sanctify, or set apart, God in your heart–make Him the center of your thoughts (v. 15)
- be ready to defend the hope that is within you–stand up for your faith (v. 15)
- be meek and respectful–have humility and be courteous (v. 15)
- have a good conscience and do not be ashamed–get right with God, no matter what you’ve done in the past (v. 16)
- look often at Jesus’ example–He’s been through it all (v. 18-22)
Discussion Questions: Read 1 Peter 3:14 and Matthew 5:10-12. Why are those who suffer for Christ especially blessed? Does this mean God won’t comfort and strengthen us when we suffer for other reasons?
Read 1 Peter 3:15, James 1:12, Matthew 10:18, and Titus 3:7. How can we have the answers needed, when we are called upon to testify for our faith? When are there other times when our testimony is needed? How would you describe this hope–hope in what?
Read 1 Peter 3:20. Why bring Noah’s story into the picture? What kind of persecution did Noah endure? How was it similar to the suffering of Christ?
Tuesday: The Fiery Trial
At the very beginning of Peter’s letter, he mentioned that they would be “tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7 NKJV). He once again refers to a fiery trial when he says…
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;” 1 Peter 4:12 NKJV
He doesn’t say MAY try you. So it seems, from his wording, that these trials were inevitable for Christians in his day. Consider the time Peter was living. Satan was especially on the prowl to stop the new Christian movement from growing. Certainly, persecution was a prevalent concern for them at that time in history.
Likewise, as we are living the in the last days of earth’s history, the threat of persecution is going to be inevitable for God’s children all around the world, possibly in the generations now living.
Discussion Questions: Read 1 Peter 4:12-13, 1 Timothy 3:12, 1 John 3:13, John 15:18, and 16:33. Why did the world hate Jesus? Why are Christians also hated and persecuted? Why are we surprised when it happens though, especially for those living in relatively free countries?
Read 1 Peter 4:14-16 and Matthew 5:16. How is God glorified by our suffering and persecution? What will the world see through us?
How can we let our light shine and be humble at the same time? Is this even possible? Think of some people you know who have mastered it.
Wednesday: Judgment and the People of God
The next passage in Peter’s letter has some mystifying qualities about it that make it somewhat hard to understand. Especially confusing to some may be 1 Peter 4:47, which says…
“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” NKJV
Since Peter is linking the current suffering of God’s people to the judgment of God, we might conclude that their sufferings are part of God’s judgment. In that sense, the judgment is beginning with them.
In biblical times, judgment was not thought of in such a negative sense as it is now. Judgment for people was a highly favored activity, because it represented a means of bringing justice to their world. Being heard by a judge was the only safe recourse they had of dealing with their enemies and abusers back then.
You’ll remember one of Jesus’ parables was about a poor widow, who prevailed persistently on a certain judge to take her case and serve the justice she knew she deserved. See Luke 18:1-8. By her consistent faith and actions, she at last won her case before the beleaguered judge.
Peter seems to be reminding his readers here that judgment (which we would be more apt to call justice) will happen first for God’s people. They are ever foremost on His agenda for righting all the wrongs happening on this troubled planet.
We also can take comfort from these words. Justice will prevail in the end.
Discussion Questions: Read 1 Peter 4:17-19, Isaiah 10:11, 12, and Malachi 3:1-6. Why would it be fair to judge God’s people first, whether their sentence turns out good or bad, as it did for many of the Jews?
Read Luke 18:1-8, Revelation 6:10, and Hebrews 10:36, 37. What was the purpose of this parable, as stated in verse 1? What should we be praying for in these last days?
Read Revelation 15:4 and Isaiah 66:23. How is worship linked with the final judgment?
Thursday: Faith Amid Trials
Whenever we suffer, through no fault of our own, when we have done no wrong, we taste what it felt like for Jesus to go through the trials He endured. But Jesus’ sacrifice served a noble cause. It allowing the salvation of all mankind, who would accept it, to be a reality. So, why do WE suffer then?
Job, of all those in the Bible who suffered, asked this question. And we still wonder at the answer. Peter, however, presents us with the only solution that may be available to us. We must faithfully commit our lives to God, and continue to do good.
“Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” 1 Peter 4:19 NKJV
If God is faithful, then we must do likewise and be faithful. Trusting Him, for no other reason than He is our Creator, our Father, the one responsible for our life. We must have faith even during our trials, especially during our trials.
Discussion Questions: Read 1 Peter 4:15 and Job 1:8. Why is it possible to suffer trials when we have done no wrong? How can a just God allow this? Why would a loving God permit it?
Read 1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:9. How do these verses help explain what is going on in our world?
Read 1 Peter 4:19 and Revelation 2:10. How long are we told to be faithful and what is our reward if we are?
Peter counseled those suffering persecution to do these things:
- understand that it WILL happen to us (especially during times important in church history, such as the beginning of the early church and the last days)
- rejoice when it does (it’s an opportunity to glorify God)
- commit ourselves to God (there’s a difference between a desire to be faithful and a commitment to be faithful)
- continue to do the right thing (it’s part of our service to God)
Embracing the Message
Visit this website and follow the stories of persecuted Christians around the world today.
Pray regularly for these Christians who are now facing the “fiery trials” Peter talked about.
Do what you can to support those in unreached mission fields, where many stories of persecution occur.
Next Week: Servant Leadership, Lesson 7
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/