When Politics Are Wrong

Read: 1 Peter 2:11-17

The church and politics. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult and divisive topic for Christians today. Christians are accused by non-Christians of being way too political. Christians are leaving branches of the church over what they see as unholy alliances and political agendas. By all accounts, there doesn’t seem to be much hope when it comes to the church and politics. This wasn’t easy in the 1st century either. In this passage, Peter writes to new Christians to show them how they can live with hope no matter who is in charge or how bad things get. His words provide Christians with a framework for living in any political environment… even for 2020 in America.

1) Our Political Authority

The starting point for proper political engagement as a Christian is to be absolutely clear on who our real political authority is. This is the point Peter is making when he says, “Submit to every human authority…”. In the original language, the emphasis is on the humanness and creatureliness of these authorities. This is crucial because a Christian approach to politics begins with the firm conviction that God has always been, is now, will always be in charge and in control over all nations; He is the real king; the One who has power and authority over all things, all nations and all leaders. Even when we don’t understand how this can be or what God could be doing – He remains in authority. God’s authority is the ultimate reason we submit (“because of the Lord”) Though this frees Christians from every human authority, we are God’s slaves, so we use the freedom He gives us how He tells us.

This leads to a crucial point of application for Christians and politics. We are to “Fear God”. We do not have to fear any political authority, action, decision or result. None of our political ideas, actions or words as Christians should come from a place of fear nor should we be manipulated by fear. When everyone around is swirling in storms of fear, Christians should stand firm knowing there is only one real authority to fear.

2) Our Political Allegiance

Peter reminds Christians where their political allegiance should lie by calling them “strangers and exiles” (2:11; he already used this language to describe them in 1:1 and 1:17). He’s saying, “The place you live, wherever it happens to be, is not your true country or nation. You are a chosen race, royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession.”  The political implications of this are vast: Christians are citizens of God’s holy nation first and only then secondarily citizens of the nations where God has placed them.  A Christian’s political allegiance is always to their king and nation first – to Jesus and his kingdom. As resident aliens, we live our lives in the world as ambassadors of the gospel and our Authority/Lord.

We need to remember this in our day because God will not become a means to a political end - even a good political end. When Christians allow themselves to become a means to a political end, allegiance to Jesus is compromised. This has happened in our country on both sides of the political spectrum. We cannot let it happen if we hope to maintain a pure allegiance to Jesus and call others to consider bowing the knee in allegiance to Him as Lord.

3) Our Political Responsibilities

Having laid down the foundation of authority and allegiance, we are ready to see what Peter says about our political responsibilities. There are two main responsibilities we have as Christians in whatever nation or political situation we find ourselves:

1) Submit – Twice Peter says we are to submit (v13, 16). For people in the modern world, submission is probably our least favorite world – especially when it comes to politics. We think, “How weak, dangerous and ineffective!” That’s not how Peter sees it. To choose to place yourself under another is the height of freedom, strength and (as we’ll see below) power. It takes great strength to choose to submit oneself (notice Peter is not talking about being subjugated).

The bible’s definition of submission is the choice to yield or defer my own will to uphold the will of another. When it comes to politics, we could define submission like this - the choice to yield my own will to uphold the common good.

One of the ways we submit according to Peter is by showing honor to those in power and to “everyone”. Politics brings out differences of opinion and values. This often leads to derogatory comments, hateful speech and slander. Peter says Christians must not get caught up in all of this. Instead, we show honor to everyone as God’s image bearers. We acknowledge the difficult burden of leadership. We acknowledge the complexity of the issues at hand. We (of all people!) recognize there are forces at work for evil beyond the human realm. In light of all this, for God’s glory, we commit to always be honorable and show honor – even to those we disagree with.  

2) Do good – Peter says the other main political responsibility Christians have in any nation is to do good. We do the good that we see needs to be done (especially the good that isn’t being done by anyone else).  We do good to show others what the gospel is and how good Jesus is (see 2:3). It’s doing good for God’s glory (not for status or reward) that silences people who object to Christianity. Notice – it’s not words that silence people! It’s works. If anything can be done to tone down the volume and noise surrounding politics – it is a community committed to actually doing the good that needs to be done. What can you say to that!? Peter says this is where Christians should focus their “political” energy.

4) Our Political Power

We think political power is the great force for change in the world. The ultimate power. Peter would say - this is wrong. There is a greater power at work in the world that not even the greatest political power can even compare. It’s a power not found in any political position or in influencing those in political positions. Real political power is found in the gospel of King Jesus and his Kingdom.  This power is found in an authority who yielded His will and his life for a greater good that couldn’t be done by anyone else.  This Lord chose to be crushed by submitting to the full the weight of sin. He chose insults, threats, suffering and death. He submitted to all of this. Why? To uphold all who believe in Him from death and from judgment by bearing their sins on the cross. This is true power.

This is paradoxical power – salvation through submission. To this power every knee will bow down and submit to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-10, 3:20-21). It is the power to heal all wounds, the power to bring life out of death, the power to turn people back who have gone far astray to come back to the Shepherd and Overseer of their lives (2:21-25). Peter tells us this power is unleashed into the nations now by those who chose to submit, honor and do good in the name of this King Jesus.

Discuss

1.        What about the sermon impacted you most? What left you with questions? What concerns do you have when it comes to Christianity/the church and politics?

2.       Do you see fear playing a major role in our politics? How so? How does remembering God’s ultimate authority free us from fear in politics?

3.       (Handle with care: potentially sensitive question!) How might Christians compromise our primary allegiance to Jesus by political allegiance to leaders, parities or causes? Why is this so harmful for our witness to Jesus?

4.       What would it look like for Christians to faithfully carry out the two main political responsibilities Peter gives us? What do you think would be hardest about this?

5.       What would it look like to focus our “political energy” on doing the good that we see needs to be done? Come up with specific examples, if possible.

6.       Why is it important we never lose sight that real political power is found in the gospel of our king and his kingdom? How would this change your thinking and approach to politics?

7.        Close by praying for our leaders and our nation. Pray for the church to faithfully follow as we approach a potentially heated election year.

A Priestly Life

Read: 1 Peter 2:4-12

“Welcome to the priesthood”. This passage teaches us that these are words God speaks to every Christian. Peter encourages Christians who were shaken and surprised by their suffering by reminding them of the priestly life they have been called to by God. This life gives purpose that provides hope when hardship and resistance come. It’s a purpose that is often only discovered and fully embraced in suffering and struggle. It’s a purpose that Christians must remember as they navigate following Jesus in difficult situations. 

1) The Position We Have

Before we can find or live out our true purpose, we first have to know our position. Just like having a position or title precedes doing a job, so a Christian must know their position in the world before fulfilling their purpose in it. In verses 4-9, Peter is saying when you come to Jesus, you have a new position in the world. It’s the most choice and honored position you could ever have! Every person who comes to Jesus by faith has the same positions and titles as Jesus: He’s a living stone, you are living stones in a spiritual house; He’s the perfect priest, you are a priesthood, he’s chosen and honored, the one who believes in him is chosen and honored too (they will never be put to shame, they are chosen, royalty!).

In piling up all these positions and titles (which come from God’s description of Israel in the Old Testament), Peter is saying all the things that we look to in the world for position and identity, no longer define us. He subordinates all these things to the position and identity we have in Christ. Here’s how that plays out:

1.        A chosen race – Your culture and race don’t define your position/identity.

2.       A royal priesthood – Your profession/work and social class in the world don’t define your position/identity.

3.        A holy nation – The country and nation where you live don’t define your position/identity.

4.       A people for his possession –Even your relationships don’t define your position/identity. You belong to God first.

Peter drives all this home to encourage his readers that they are acceptable, valuable and worthy to God no matter what others say about them and do to them. But that’s not all – he’s saying all this so they would also remember the purpose that comes with this position.

2) The Purpose We Are Given

Peter describes the purpose every Christian is given as a “priesthood” (v5 and v9). What did it mean to be a priest in the Old Testament? To have the position of priest meant your whole life was dedicated to bringing people to God and bringing God to people. There are three important aspects to this priestly purpose that Peter emphasizes here:

1) It’s a Purpose Given to Us For Others – To be a priest was to be given a sacred and esteemed position. But a priest was never given access to God for him/herself. They were given this access for others.

2) It’s a Purpose Given to Us in Community with Others – This priesthood is not something that can be carried out alone. All the positions Peter describes here are corporate and communal. This purpose can only be fulfilled in the context of a connected, embodied community.

3) It’s a Purpose Given to Us to Be our Primary Purpose – The priestly life is the Christians’ primary purpose. This means all other positions God gives us in life are carried out as priests first. Glorifying God with what we say and do in community for the sake of others is our chief end in life. It’s what we were made to. It’s what gives purpose to all other (secondary) purposes we have in life.

3) The Power to Live It Out

Being called to the “priesthood” is intimidating. Who feels adequate enough, holy enough or qualified enough to bring God to people and people to God?! No one who really knows themselves. So how do we get the power to live out this great purpose in all we do? Peter says the power has to come from deep deep down inside us. It has to start with the very foundation of our lives.

The reasoning goes like this - ultimately, we all must build our identity and purpose on something. It’s the thing that – if it is removed – our sense of identity crumbles. We feel like we have no purpose. It’s the thing that if it is taken or shaken – we no longer know who we are or what to do. Peter says this foundation, this cornerstone, must be Jesus himself. There’s no other way. When He’s our cornerstone – our lives are fitted onto his so that the very power and presence of God is with us (this is the point of the temple imagery in verses 4-5). His power is active in every life built on him. It comes down to this - our priestly life is only possible because of his priestly life. Jesus came to bring us to God and bring God to us despite our sin and resistance (see 1 Pt. 3:18). How did he do this? Through rejection, suffering and death. Why? The gospel says – the only answer is because he chose to out of love. We are chosen, honored and precious to Him. Knowing what Jesus did to bring us to God, we can do what he calls us to to bring others closer to Him.

Discuss

1.        What about the sermon impacted you the most? What left you with questions?

2.       How do we look to positions and titles to give us a sense of purpose in life?

3.        What are some implications for an individual Christian that our primary position/identity in life is no longer defined by our race, culture, profession, social status, country or even our relationships?

4.       What would v9 look like in action as a community, as a church (where race, culture, political persuasions, and different professions/social classes subordinated to a primary identity in Christ)? Why would this be so hard to live out? Why might this kind of community offend some people? How might it attract others?

Use the following definition of priesthood in answers questions 5-7 - The purpose of the priesthood is to bring God to others and to bring others to God.

5.       Why is it important that we remember our purpose in life is for others and not just ourselves?

6.       The image of living stones built together in v4-5, and the plural titles given in v9-10 clearly teach us that we’ve been given a purpose that cannot be found or fulfilled on our own. Has this proven true for you?

7.        If our priestly purpose is the primary purpose given to us by God, how does this impact our secondary purposes in the following areas:

·         I am called to be a… Priest-student

·         I am called to be a… Priest-friend

·         I am called to be a… Priest-citizen

·         I am called to be a… Priest-wife, Priest-husband

·         I am called to be a… Priest-mother, Priest-father

·         I am called to be a… Priest - (fill in your job)

·         I am called to be a… Priest-neighbor

·         I am called to be a… Priest-volunteer (PTA parent, Coach or Room Parent)

8.       Using section 3 above – what would you say is currently your “functional” cornerstone (the thing you are really building your identity and purpose on)? Why is Jesus the only cornerstone that can give us a stable identity and purpose that can withstand any suffering and struggle?

A Loving Life

Read: 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

In this passage, Peter returns to the idea of the new birth. We may need to set aside our religious and/or cultural baggage concerning the idea of being “born again” to really hear what Peter is saying. When Peter talks about “new birth”, he’s saying that becoming a Christian is to be reborn (ie to die and to be recreated) into a whole new life that will last forever. This new life is the resurrection life of Jesus given to us. This is the life we grow into now and will grow further up and into forever in the new creation!  To people who were suffering, this gives reason for hope. Peter teaches that this new life grows stronger and deeper through suffering. In all our ups and downs; trials and suffering; in persecution, loss and grief - there is something invincible, eternal, glorious and beautiful that God can and will grow in us. What is it? It’s a loving life.

1) Why It’s Impossible to Live

The first thing we need to see about the kind of loving life Peter is calling us to is that it’s impossible to live. If we think we can do it, we need to take a closer look at the exact kind of love Peter is calling us to:

·         It’s “Sincere” - Never hypocritical or pretending; it’s not fake or forced. 100% genuine.

·         It’s “Constant” - It’s fervent. It doesn’t take a day off. Never half-hearted.

·         It’s “Brotherly” –In the ancient world, brotherly-love was the strongest of all ties and bonds. It never gives up because it can’t.

·         It’s “Pure” –It’s not mixed with any selfishness or any bit of what we can get or what we expect in return.

What is love? While we can never fully wrap all the Bible says about love into one neat definition, here is one way we could try: Love is faithfully giving of ourselves to another’s good even at our own expense. If we’ve ever tried to love like this we know it is impossible! That’s why Peter quotes the prophet Isaiah in verse 24, “All flesh is like grass…” In order to be prepared to hear about what God can do, we first have to be confronted with the truth of what we cannot do. Christianity does NOT say – here is love. Do it. It takes an impossible supernatural act.  All human attempts to love (our flesh) cannot do it. Christianity says our old unloving self that can’t do it has to die, a new us has to be re-born.

2) How It’s Impossible Not to Live

This kind of love is impossible apart from being born again but that’s not the main point Peter is making. In verse 23, he’s giving the grounds for why a loving life is not only possible – he’s giving the reason why it is impossible for a Christian NOT to live a loving life. He uses the language of human reproduction to make this point. He says, since you have been reconceived by an imperishable seed and not normal human perishable seed, you have a whole new nature and life. It is the very life of the God who is love. It’s impossible for anything to stop this living and enduring seed from growing.

This is why love for one another (ie “other Christians”) is the core mark and test of a genuine Christian faith. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). This should convict even the most mature Christian – love is the goal, the task, the mark. An honest look at our lives reveals so many ways we fail the test. Yet, this should also encourage even the most wavering Christian. It’s impossible not to live a loving life for those who have the very love of God growing within them. Like a newborn baby has a long way to go to become an adult so we all have a long way to go to live a loving life. But if our trust is in the invincible and all powerful word of the gospel – God will grow this life in us.

3) How It’s Possible to Grow Into

In 2:1-3, Peter continues with the metaphor of the new birth. Like a baby growing up into maturity – we need to grow up into our salvation. The mark of a grown up and mature Christian is love but Peter is saying it’s possible to have this loving life yet not be growing up into it. Those who have this new life need to grow up into it. How does this happen?

We grow up into this life, as we drink “the pure milk of the word”. The person who wants to grow into a loving life, needs the constant nourishment of the word. As one commentator said, “For an infant, milk is not a fringe benefit”. That’s the picture here: like a baby needs and craves milk, so a Christian needs constant gospel nourishment to grow.

What’s vital for us to understand about this is that Peter is not saying, “Just read the bible and you’ll grow into a loving person”. It’s only when we taste the central message of the bible  that we will grow and keep coming back for more. What is this taste?

1.        It’s the taste of how his goodness reveals the bad taste of our unloving life. The perfect, pure, genuine, constant love of Jesus reveals how unloving we are. We know we are tasting of his goodness, when we start to see ourselves in the list of unloving vices in 2:1. 

2.       It’s the taste of how his goodness meets us in our worst failures to live a loving life. Though we are more unloving and unlovely than we will ever really “taste”, the gospel is this - there is nothing we can do to make him love us more; there is nothing we can do to make him love us less because Jesus faithfully gave himself for us for our good at great expense to Himself.  

The taste of his love for us in Christ is what grows a loving life in us. It’s not tasting doctrine to know; it’s not tasting rules to follow; it’s tasting the Lord is good. It’s tasting Him. When we taste His love for us at our worst, we say, “That’s SO good! If God can love me like this! I can love people in ways I never thought possible”

Discuss

1.        What about the sermon impacted you the most or left you with questions?

2.       Read over the description of love above from 1 Peter 1:22. Based on what you know about how the Bible defines love, do you think it is an overstatement to say that this kind of love is impossible? Would you define love any differently?

3.        How does it challenge or convict you to know that love is the core mark and test of a genuine Christian faith? How does it encourage you to know that it is impossible not to grow into this life if you have placed your trust in Jesus?

4.       In the sermon, it was said that Christians often avoid the impossibility of a loving life by measuring our spiritual growth in ways other than love (ie how often we pray or read the bible, the sins we commit or avoid)? What’s wrong with this? Have you found yourself doing this?  

5.       How do we know we are tasting “the Lord” when we read, hear the Word? Why is the good taste of doctrine or moral teaching not enough to make us loving people?

6.       How does tasting his goodness reveal our “badness”? Why is tasting this a good thing? Why does this make the taste of his love for us all the more good? How does this give us the power to love?

7.        Where are you finding it most difficult to live a loving life right now? What makes it so hard? How might the taste of God’s love for you enable you to love in ways you never thought possible?

A Holy Life

Read: 1 Peter 1:13-21

The phrase “living hope” can be read in two ways: 1) Living hope (adjective, noun) is something we have been given because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All other hopes fade and perish but since Jesus is alive, our hope is always alive. 2) Living hope (verb, direct object) is something we do because of the hope we have in Jesus – we live out our hope. In 1:13-21, Peter transitions from describing the hope we have in the gospel, to describing what a hope-filled life looks like. He calls it a “holy” life.

1) A Holy Life… Where It Starts

When we think of a holy life, most people think it begins with God’s commands or moral instructions. This is not true. A holy life, Peter teaches, starts with hope (1:13). Before we can be holy, we first need to have our hope fixed “completely” on the grace that will be ours at the coming of Jesus. The implication is that if your hope is in the wrong things, you will not live a holy life. Why would this be so? The logic is this - our desired future is what sets the course for our present life and decisions. Whether it’s good grades, success, our reputation or security – if these things are where our hope is fixed, they set the standard of our conduct. It’s why many “good” people might find themselves cheating on a test, cutting corners to get ahead, lying or putting others down to look good or refusing to be generous with their money or time. We compromise because our conduct is devoted to making these hopes come true. In contrast, if our hope is in the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth, our conduct will be devoted to seeing this new creation life of holiness grow in and through us – even in this broken world (see 2 Peter 3:10-13!). 

2) A Holy Life… What It Looks Like

A holy life doesn’t make it on many people’s “wish lists” in our modern world – even Christians. Why not? One of the biggest reasons is that we have the wrong idea of what a holy life looks like. In verses 15-16, Peter grounds the call to a holy life in God’s holy character. God’s holiness means that he is transcendent, utterly separate and set apart from us or anything in the universe. What then does it mean then for us to be holy? A holy life is a life “set apart” for God, fully and completely devoted to Him. This means a holy life might look different than we think it does. To be a holy person is not the same thing as being a good person or a moral person. A holy life is something altogether different. In fact, living a holy life is what makes a Christian different than both an immoral (irreligious) person AND a very moral (religious) person. How so?

1.                    An irreligious/immoral person rejects traditional moral teaching and rules to get less of God in their life. They might want some spiritual benefit from a “god” (ie, peace, meaning) but they want to keep control over most of their life. That’s why they make the rules.

2.                   A religious/moral person is good and keeps the rules to get less of God in their life. How so? The religious person says, “If I follow these rules and do these moral things – then I’m done. I’ve done my part. The rest of life is mine. God will do his part to give me blessing, give good things and heaven when I die.” Notice what’s missing in what a moral person really wants in life? God. The less they can give him the better, because they aren’t really interested in Him.

3.                    A Christian is a holy person who does good, follows the rules and is moral to get more of God into their life because they believe their whole life belongs (is set apart) to God. Because the totality of their life belongs to God, they live to “get” God into every part of their life and conduct. That’s what holiness is - God getting more and more of a life. What does a Christian really want in life? More of God. That’s holiness.

3) A Holy Life… How to Live It

But how does God get a hold of more and more of a life? Peter helps us see how it’s possible for us to live a holy life. It involves clear and careful thinking about the reason and basis for our conduct (1:13, 14) AND it involves an act of the will devoting our whole life to God and his purposes. But more than just thinking and doing is needed. There is something that ignites the passion to be holy – we need right feeling and affection. Giving God more and more of our lives needs to move from “I have to” to “I want to”. How does this happen?

First, we need God to cause us to feel the emptiness of an unholy life. The road to holiness passes through many moments where God allows us to feel the emptiness of pursuing a life apart from Him. We get what we hope for – we feel empty. We don’t get what we most hope – we feel empty. The futility of it all causes us to say – “God fill me!”

We also need to feel the costliness of a holy life. The cost is that everything that is unholy in us must be consumed. God is holy so he will consume anything and everything that is unholy. The problem is that this means we would be consumed. This is why, before he went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “I sanctify myself for them, so that they may also be sanctified (made holy)” (Jn 17:19). Jesus didn’t sin - so why did he need to sanctify himself? Jesus is saying, “I wholly devote myself to them so they may be wholly devoted to You.” He was fully consumed by God’s holiness at the cross so we wouldn’t be. He did not hold back any of himself for us – we who are more unholy than we will ever know – how can we hold back anything from him? This is how the holy love of God in Christ gets deep inside us so that we live holy lives – not because we have to – because we want to.   

Discuss

1.        What about the sermon impacted you the most or left you with questions?

2.       How is hope connected to holiness according to Peter? How do you see the principle that our desired future sets the course for our present life and decisions work itself out in your life?

3.        Look up 2 Peter 3:10-13. Here Peter further unpacks the connection between hope and holiness. In your own words, describe how a hope in the resurrection life in the new heavens and new earth leads to a life of holiness.

4.       What is your mental picture of a holy life? Is it something you want, don’t want or are indifferent towards? How does the idea of holiness as a life entirely devoted to and belonging to God change your picture of what a holy life looks like?

For further discussion – Read Rom 16:16, 1 Timothy 2:8, 4:3-5. Paul says our hands and our kisses are holy and “everything created by God” can be made holy through the word and prayer. Clearly holy is not the same thing as being good/moral. Using this insight, come up with a definition of holiness or a description of a holy life.

5.       What’s the difference between a holy life and an irreligious/immoral life? a religious moral life? How do you see yourself moving toward irreligion or religion to have less of God in your life?

6.       How has God caused you to feel the emptiness of an unholy life? Are you feeling some of this now? If so, in what ways?

7.        Where do you feel you most need to move from “have to” to “want to” in your life? Share these things as a group and pray for grace to surrender these areas of your life over to Him.

Living Hope

Read: 1 Peter 1:3-12

Peter was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, a part of his inner circle and was appointed by Jesus to be the leader of the early Christian movement. But there is perhaps a more compelling reason than any of these to listen to what Peter has to say in this letter – the total transformation of how he dealt with suffering. Earlier in his life, Peter was rebuked by Jesus for what he said about suffering; he tried to cut the head off a solider to prevent Jesus from suffering; he even denied Jesus three times to avoid suffering for him. Yet, this is the person who wrote the one letter in the New Testament that – more than any other - provides us with a gospel theology of suffering. This is the person who faced imprisonment, beatings and, eventually, his own crucifixion with boldness, courage and joy. How is such a transformation possible? He tells us here - It all came down to finding in Jesus Christ what Peter calls “living hope”. 

1) Why We Need Living Hope

In verse 3, Peter bursts into praise in response to a gift God has given us in his great mercy. It’s a gift that Christians really only discover we have and only see how much we need when life brings suffering. What is this gift? It’s “a new birth into a living hope”. Like a baby that can’t imagine the life it will live as an adult, so Christians can’t imagine or appreciate this living hope of resurrection until suffering and hardship reveal just how great it is.

The bible assumes that every person looks for hope in something. We can define hope as the settled conviction that what will be will be better than what is. In contrast, to have the settled conviction that what will be will not be better than what is, leads to a sickness of heart that takes from us our very energy for life (Prov. 13:12). In verse 4, Peter contrasts the living hope of Jesus with every other human hope. We need a living hope because every other hope we can have in this world will one day perish, will always be mixed with sin, evil and brokenness (ie be defiled) and will eventually fade. Though all other hopes eventually die, the gospel offers us a hope that always lives.

2) What Living Hope Is

Peter unmasks our false hopes in order to show us a better hope that will never perish, never be tainted and never fade. It’s the living hope that what will be will be better than what is because Jesus rose from the dead. All those who trust in Jesus Christ share in his resurrection life in part now, and one day, fully and forever. This “inheritance” (a resurrection life in the new creation with Jesus forever) is not just a future reality we can count on, it’s also a future reality that breaks into our lives now with living hope. How so? Verses 5-9 tell us:

·         Living hope is the hope that what is most difficult for us will only be for a short time – From the vantage point of resurrection time, this present age of trials and grief is a short time. Our future inheritance in a world without suffering and tears is forever and ever. It would be the height of cruelty for Peter to say to those suffering – “It’s ok. It’s only a short time” unless he was sure of the hope of eternity. Because Jesus is alive, we can be sure what feels to us so long will one day feel like only a short time.

·         Living hope is the hope that what is most valuable cannot be taken from us. If the resurrection is true, Peter says the most valuable thing any person can have is faith. Why? Because Faith is the empty hands of trust, the letting go of control, the personal trust that connects us to Jesus and his resurrection life. Peter says suffering is like fire; our faith is like gold. Suffering does take a lot from us; but it also can give us something of greater value than anything else – a refined faith.

·         Living hope is that our greatest grief will not be without joy. As it was for Jesus, so it is with Christians. It is not grief or joy; it is grief and joy. To follow Jesus is to go deeper into grief over all that is not the way it should be and deeper into the joy of knowing Him. Somehow, God uses our grief to open up space in our souls for finding true joy.  This “inexpressible” joy (v8), in large part, comes from how our grief more clearly reveals the glory of Jesus – the One who died to make us and all things new.

3) How to Find Living Hope

How do we find this living hope when life brings suffering and the resurrection of Jesus (and our resurrection) feels so far, distant and ineffective? Peter is doing all he can to point us beyond ourselves and our difficult circumstances to look to Jesus in personal trust (faith). In verses 10-12, he makes the point that this is what the entire bible is about - the suffering and glories of Christ! When we suffer, we must look to his sufferings. He suffered with us and for us to end all suffering. When we suffer, we must look to his glory. There we find our guaranteed future life in preview.

Many people mistakenly believe that Christianity teaches something like this: Jesus taught us to live a good life so that, if we live good enough (not perfect, no one is), then God will bless us and give us a good life, guard us from suffering and hardship and, when we die, we’ll get into heaven. This is not Christianity! In fact, this is a recipe for hopelessness. Either we think we are good enough - which leads to anger with God when we suffer; or we think we’ll never be good enough - which leads to despair when we suffer. The gospel is the good news that we can give up any hope of being good enough and all hope of ever finding hope apart from Jesus and find living hope in all that Jesus has done for us.

How do we find hope? Peter tells us what changed everything for him. The living hope that Jesus rose from the dead. His love for us has been proven by his death; our future guaranteed by his resurrection. While our suffering takes away all other things we love and trust in, nothing can ever take away what we have when our love and trust is in Him. God promises to guard this inheritance until the day he gives it to us fully and forever. 

Discuss

1.        What about the sermon impact you the most or left you with questions?

2.       Have you ever thought about Peter’s personal transformation when it came to how he handled suffering? How does this make him a trustworthy guide to finding hope in suffering?

3.        Using the definition of hope above, what would you say you most look to for hope in your life instead of Jesus? How does it impact you to know that this hope will perish, is tainted and will one day fade?

4.       Using a search engine look up the Myth of Sisyphus. What is the basic story? Do you sometimes feel like this is all life is? How does Peter help explain this feeling? How does what he says answer our feelings of hopelessness with living hope?

5.       Of the three descriptions of living hope above – which do you feel you most need to find hope in the suffering or struggles you are currently facing? How would it change things if you really believed this?

6.       Have you experienced deeper joy and growing love for Jesus in the midst of suffering? If so, share your story with the group.

7.        Why do we have to let go of the hope of earning a suffering-free life to find living hope? Why do we have to let go of all other hopes to find living hope in Jesus?

8.       In the sermon it was said that this living hope is:

a.        not blind faith but is utterly reasonable because it is based on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

b.       not naïve optimism but is utterly realistic because it does not minimize suffering or grief that life brings.

How are these 2 things important for those going through hard times to find hope? to help others find hope when they are suffering?