Monday, November 9, 2009

A Suffering People: Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending November 15, 2009

Purpose: To consider what it means to share in Christ's sufferings

Scripture Text: I Peter 4:12-19 (NRSV)

I peter 4:12-19
(12) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (13)But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.(14)If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. (15)But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker. (16)Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.(17)For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

(18)And ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?’ (19)Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

First from a historical standpoint, Peter's letter is not being written to a group of believers in Asia Minor that is suffering persecution in the same sense as those that will suffer at the end of the first century. Christians under heavy persecution by the state would come a generation later as recorded in the Book of Revelation, by the Apostle John. Even Peter, who may have been feeling some pressure from Nero, was not being persecuted like he will suffer within a few years at the hands of the Roman government when Nero blames Christians for the great fire that destroys much of Rome, and Peter is crucified upside down (by his own request) because of his belief

The persecution that Peter speaks of seems to be more like segregation, becoming a Christian caused many to be segregated from their family and friends; they were in a sense cut off from community. Many may have lost jobs, and certainly friends because of their belief. Not unlike what happened to those in the African-American community during our first 200 years, or what is happening today to those from Muslim countries within our borders. Being a Christian in the first generation after Christ's death on the cross, cost people their family and friends.

In her book “Traveling Mercies; Some Thoughts on Faith” Anne Lamott tells of her hesitancy to leave a life of drugs, alcohol, and adultery. She knew she would have to give up her friends and the lifestyle she was living. She would be laughed at, and chastised because she would no longer be part of that community. Many of those within this new community of Christians that Peter addresses will suffer the same consequence.

We can sense Peter’s compassion and love for these early Christians, when he addresses them with “beloved.” Peter addresses both the “fiery ordeal” and the “joy” that comes from suffering for the sake of Christ. One thing this does not mean is that suffering pain because of sickness or injury, or being poor, or even breaking the law, is the same as suffering for our belief in Christ. While it is true that suffering some of life's hardships can bring us closer to Christ, that is different than suffering because of Christ. In the same way it is not always God's will that we suffer sickness or accidents or other catastrophes in our life, but we do have a chance to turn those events into positives when they allow us to become closer in our walk with Christ, and in our ability to share our faith with others.

Peter makes certain they understand the difference between suffering because they broke the law “by being a murderer, a thief, a criminal or even a mischief maker,” and suffering because they named the name of Christ. Notice in verse 17 the judgment begins with the “Household of God;” being a Christian does not remove you from God's judgment; it only forces you to trust in God's grace and mercy during that judgment, and to continue “to do good.”

Today there are parts of our own hemisphere where Christians are persecuted, like
Cuba and Venezuela. I would encourage you to go CSI website and see where Christians are being persecuted today. I would also challenge you “to do good,” until Christ returns.

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