Be Holy – Studies in 1 Peter

The traditional view (which I find convincing) is that this letter was written or dictated by the Apostle Peter himself around 62-63 AD. At this time Christians in Rome were facing fierce persecution under Emperor Nero, although the letter is addressed generally to all believers scattered around the world.
1. Praise God for a living hope 1 Peter 1:1-12
2. Be holy, because I am holy 1 Peter 1:13-2:12
3. Christ’s example of submission 1 Peter 2:13-2:25
4. Wives and husbands 1 Peter 3:1-7
5. Suffering for doing good or for being a Christian 1 Peter 3:8-22, 4:12-19
6. Living for God 1 Peter 4:1-11, 5:1-14

1. Praise God for a living hope 1 Peter 1:1-12
Our first study brings together many of the great themes of Christian living – hope, faith, love, joy and heaven! These words should usually fill us with “an inexpressible and glorious joy” and lead on to praise. But do be sensitive to the needs of members of the group who may be recently bereaved or be going through difficult times.
1. What do your group think heaven is going to be like? Are they looking forward to heaven?

2. Read 1 Peter 1:1-12, then verses 3-5 again. Usually we receive an inheritance when another person dies. Our Christian inheritance comes from the death of Christ, but we come into our inheritance when WE die! What do we learn about that inheritance when Peter says that it “can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you”?

3. Read 1 Peter 1:5-7. The promise of heaven has always been especially precious to believers who have very little in this world, for example slaves and persecuted Christians. How much is our hope of heaven a daily reality and source of comfort to us? Can it be true that the hope of heaven means much less to people whose lives are safe and comfortable?
You may wish to quote a BBC science report: “In Roman times the average life span in Britain was just 22 (mainly because of the appalling rate of infant mortality), by 1800 it was 40 years, 1900 around the late 40s and today it hovers around the mid-to-late 70s.”

4. Read 1 Peter 1:8-9. Peter speaks about “an inexpressible and glorious joy”. Is that kind of joy part of our Christian experience? How is it expressed? If not, why not?

5. Our “happy certainty” of heaven comes from our faith. How does faith give us hope? What does this passage teach us about faith? (Especially verses 5 and 7-9 and also 1:21.)
It is fair to say that Peter sees faith particularly in the context of our relationship with Christ, in acts of believing and trusting in Him. Not surprisingly, this is close to the idea of faith we find in Matthew Mark and Luke, and contrasts with ideas of faith in Paul, James or Hebrews.

6. Discuss 1 Peter 1;1-2, or use these verses as a basis for a time of meditation and prayer, reading them phrase by phrase. What does it mean to us as Christians to know that we are:
“God’s elect” ? “strangers in the world” ? “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” ? “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit” ? “for obedience to Jesus Christ” ? “and sprinkling by his blood” ?

2. Be holy, because I am holy 1 Peter 1:13-2:12

1. What does the word, “holy” mean to members of the group? Is “holiness” good or bad? Why do you think we don’t hear too much talk of “holiness” nowadays?

2. What does the word, “holy” mean to the world around who are not believers? In their eyes, is “being holy” a good or a bad thing?

3. Read 1 Peter 1:13:-2:12. What does the apostle Peter understand “holiness” to mean?
The following verses are particularly relevant.
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; …
14, do not conform to the evil desires you had
15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do …
17 live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. …
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. …
2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation …
9 declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. …
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
12 Live such good lives among the pagans

4. Suggest some PRACTICAL ways in which the ideas you found in answer to question 3 are (or should be) expressed in your everyday living.

5. What motives does Peter suggest we should have for being holy? Which of these do members of the group find most helpful in our quest for holiness?
The following verses are particularly relevant.
13 set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. …
16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” …
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially,
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. …
23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
2:2 so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. …
5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. …
12 they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

6. Use one or more of these sections as a basis for meditation and prayer:-
1 Peter 1:16; 1 Peter 1:18-21; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9-10.

3. Christ’s example of submission 1 Peter 2:13-25

This passage can take you in different directions. As ever, dip into both or focus on one as suits your group best. Note – in study 5 we will be spending a whole evening (or two) considering the practical issue of “suffering for doing good, or for being a Christian” from chapters 3 and 4. This passage provides the ethical and theological background for what Peter later teaches on that subject.
1. Begin by reading 1 Peter 2:13-25. Ask the group, which for them is the most striking verse? Which would be the hardest verse to obey? (N.B. The first readers were facing persecution!)

2. Read verses 13 and 18-19 again. They are characteristic of the Early Church’s attitude to all authority. What is the difference between submission and complete obedience?

3. Read also Romans 13:1-6. Paul commands the same submission to authorities. Are these commands about submission and enduring suffering in Romans and 1 Peter universal, applying to all situations, or do we have reason to think they only applied at that time?

4. Do we feel God would put any limits on our submission to authorities? Can we suggest examples where meekness and submission might NOT be the correct course of action?
(e.g. South Africa and apartheid? Christians under Hitler?)

5. How could Christians justify a decision to disobey these commands of submission (as Christians in South Africa did)? See the notes below for one possible approach.

6. Read 1 Peter 2:21-25. What does this tell us about Christ’s death on the cross?

7. Peter seems to be saying, “Christ suffered without complaining – so Christians should always do the same.” Many modern preachers say instead “Christ suffered, so we don’t have to!” “We can live in the victory of the resurrection, not the suffering of the cross.” Who is right?

8. Ten years ago Steve Chalke challenged the classic evangelical understanding of the cross as “penal substitution”. He described the idea that Christ was suffering on the cross in our place to pay the penalty we should have paid for our sin as “cosmic child abuse”.
Read Isaiah 53:4-12. Peter quotes verse 9 and clearly bases his understanding of Christ’s death on this whole prophecy. Read also 1 Peter 1: 18-19 and also 3:18. What do these verses in 1 Peter and Isaiah 53 teach us about the way that the cross brings us salvation?
(Answer: at least as far as 1 Peter is concerned, penal substitution is the right understanding!)

COMMENT ON THE ETHICAL QUESTION of submission to every authority
If you missed it you might want to catch up on my sermon “Should the church always obey the state? Romans 13” online at http://pbthomas.com/blog/?p=184 Ask me for a paper copy if you prefer.
The universal principles in 1 Peter 2:13, 18-19 and in Romans 13:1-7 are not tied to their original context. They always apply. But these universal principles can be outweighed in some circumstances, either by the command to love one’s neighbour or the need to fight for justice for the oppressed, just as it may sometimes be morally acceptable to tell a lie if that is the only way to save an innocent person’s life. These are examples of “canonical tension” where one part of the Bible over-rides another.
“The apparently universal Christian conviction that at least some governments must be opposed … is surely better explained as a case of the “lesser evil”, where there is a conflict of principles, each in itself good, and divinely sanctioned. To resist government is bad in itself, but the alternative may be worse. … The same “conscience” which requires our submission to government … may also cause us to defy a particular government’s edicts to the point of advocating its overthrow.” (R.T.France)
4. Wives and husbands 1 Peter 3:1-7
1. Ask the group, “The Bible says wives should submit to their husbands. Does that still apply today? Or should husband and wife be completely equal in their relationship?”

2. Read 1 Peter 3:1-7. Read verses 1-2 again. What should “Wives be submissive to your husbands” mean in practice in Christian marriages today? Look at 1 Peter 2:21-25. Peter suggests that wives should submit “in the same way” as Christ submitted to His Father’s will and to the unjust actions of His executioners. How might this be worked out in marriage?

3. Read verse 7 again. What does it mean in practice for husbands to “be considerate” to their wives and to “treat them with respect”? Do we agree that wives are “the weaker partner”?

4. Read verses 3-6 again. Some churches interpret this as a prohibition on Christian women wearing jewellery, “fine clothes” and even make up. Is that understanding correct?

The key to understanding this passage is to work out whether the instructions Peter gives were only for that time and that culture, or whether they are universal for Christians in all times in all cultures. There is nothing in the passage to suggest it is tied only to that culture, and the example of Christ’s submission applies to suffering today (see next week). Is there any reason this should not apply?

5. Suffering (a) 1 Peter 3:8-22 and/or (b) 1 Peter 4:12-19

Following on from study 3, 1 Peter also looks at suffering from a different angle. You could focus on one passage and its corresponding questions (a) or (b) or cover both, or take two weeks if you prefer.
If doing both I would probably tackle the questions in order 1(a) 2(a) 3(a) (4a) 1(b) 2(b) 3(b) 4(b) 5.

1. (a) On “suffering for doing good”, read 1 Peter 3:8-18 OR
(b) On “suffering for being a Christian”, read 1 Peter 4:12-19.

2. If looking at passage (a) Ask the group if they themselves have ever experienced unjust punishment?
If looking at passage (b) Ask the group if they themselves have ever suffered for being Christians?

3. If looking at passage (a) What examples of unjust punishment can we think of in the world today?
If looking at passage (b) What examples of suffering for the Christian faith today can we think of?

4. For both passages (a) & (b) What encouragement does Peter give here for times when we suffer? What practical advice does he give? Should we expect such suffering to be rare, or normal, for Christians?

5. Consider again, what does the example of Christ’s suffering in 1 Peter 2:18-25 teach us for our lives today?

You will probably want to avoid discussing 1 Peter 3:19-22. Some people use it to argue that God is so loving that He will offer a “second chance” to repent after death for any who reject Him in this life. This passage about Christ “preaching” to “spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18-20) does not offer any hope of a second chance for men. It clearly refers to Christ’s proclamation of His victory to imprisoned evil spirits (c.f. 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6) not to evangelism amongst people who have died.
6. Living for God 1 Peter 4:1-11, 5:1-14

Once again these passages cover a range of issues. Feel free to take an overview, or to focus on just one or two points.

1. The following question was posed at a meeting I was at recently. “How have you grown in your faith in the last year? What things which you would have done without thinking about them a year or two years ago will you not do now because you have come to realise they are sin?” DISCUSS 

2. Read 1 Peter 4:1-11. The lives of Christians in North Springfield today are not that different from the lives of the people around. We are not surrounded by pagans living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry but rather by “happy successful secularists”. So just what does this passage have to say to US about living for God? How should our lives stand out as different from those of our neighbours?

3. Read 1 Peter 5:1-5. What does Peter teach us here about the responsibilities and qualifications for being an Elder (minister or church leader)? How in practice should the Elders give a lead? (Hints: shepherds of the flock … overseers … eager to serve … not lording it over … as examples.)

4. In contrast the “young men” are called to “be submissive”. What kind of relationship should exist between Minister / Church leaders, and members of the church? You may also like to look at Hebrews 13:7 and 17, and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. Do commands like“obey your leaders and submit to their authority” and respect … those who are over you in the Lord” still have a place in the church today? Have we neglected the value of “overseeing” and “admonishing” in the process of Christian growth and holiness?

5. Read 1 Peter 5:5-11. We have lots of practice at casting our anxiety on the Lord, but what does it actually mean to “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand”?

6. Use 1 Peter 5:6-11 as a framework for meditation or prayer. Read the verses one at a time with one to two minutes silence between each verse.

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