Click here for a print-friendly version
Faith That Escapes Corruption
Fall Quarter: Responding to God’s Grace
Sunday school lesson for the week of November 24, 2019
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: 2 Peter 1
Key Verse: 2 Peter 1:4
Key Verse: “He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
Aim and goal of the lesson
To be reminded of how precious is our faith, and what the holy gospel meant to those, like Peter, who have ensured that we received it, pure, precious, and powerful.
Historical, Geographical, Theological, and Experiential Background for 2 Peter 1
In Second Timothy Paul offers young Timothy a wise and tender goodbye. He is preparing to leave the one thing he loved above all others into the trust of Timothy and the other disciples of Jesus Christ. Simon Peter offers the same, but rather than address a single individual, Simon’s goodbye is addressed to the entire church throughout the Roman Empire. Peter is keenly aware he is facing the final days of his life. Jesus foretold the nearness and manner of Simon’s departure from this life. Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:13-14, “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me
.” In 2 Timothy, Paul sounds resigned to his approaching death, but his words teem with confidence for he truly believes in his own destiny and that he is leaving the body of Christ in good hands. After all, Paul understood it wasn’t his church, it was Jesus’ church, and, he had witnessed God saving and sustaining his church repeatedly. Yet Peter’s letter doesn’t resound with confidence similar to that in Paul’s epistle. Yes, he believes just as strongly in the eternal nature of the church as Paul, and Peter also understands the church is in God’s merciful protective hands. However, Simon sounds more like a worried dad, passionately wanting to ensure that his children, his fellow Christians in the church, understand the events currently happening about them, that they remain astutely aware of the events that are going to unfold in the approaching days, and especially that the church comprehends the important truth and wisdom he himself had taught them. In other words, he is the loving parent offering that final word of instruction before he departs from this life. He writes in verse 15, “And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things
.” This second letter of Peter is brief, consisting of only three chapters. However, they are rich in emotion and spiritual truth. And, his writing is somewhat repetitive, like a parent who is so concerned for their child they repeat themselves hoping the words are “going to stick” and be forever remembered.
Some scholars note that Peter’s first letter was written with greater linguistic polish and a more diverse vocabulary. 2 Peter is believed to be rougher, as if written by a man with less education and writing skill. Some scholars note this difference to theorize that Peter did not write both letters. However, their observations regarding the contrasts of the two letters only strengthens my belief that he most likely wrote both. It is obvious that his friend in the faith, Silas, helped him write the first epistle. Many authors used amanuenses (secretaries), especially when they were not adequately familiar with the languages of their readers. Silas was more knowledgeable of Aramaic and Greek and could write to both in great style and content. Remember, Peter was a common, uneducated Galilean fisherman who had become an uncommon apostle of Jesus Christ. This second letter possesses the characteristics of a vocational fisherman who spoke native Aramaic, but would have struggled with Greek. This letter reads as Peter would have written it without assistance. Second Peter consists of little eloquence and doesn’t demonstrate a diverse use of Greek. This is the epistle of an elderly man, an elder disciple in the faith, and a lover of the church of Jesus Christ. It is the letter of a faithful disciple contemplating his death and the needs that will arise after his departure. Scholars note strong uses of references to the transfiguration of Jesus in 2 Peter. They also recognize there are sections of the epistle that address the same issues present in sections of Jude, most notably those that deal with false teachers disseminating falsehood and seeking to usurp power in the church from the apostles. These similarities are understandable. First, Peter was present at the transfiguration! We cannot begin to understand the impact of this transcendent event upon the Galilean fisherman. He rarely encountered the world beyond the Sea of Galilea. That day he encountered the eternal world where Elijah and Moses lived, and Jesus was transfigured into a heavenly expression of himself. How could he forget about it, or fail to mention it when reminding others that he himself heard Jesus speak, and that the transfigured Christ had chosen him as a leader of the church? What greater resource did he have to confront the false teachers than his experience of the transfiguration? Secondly, the church throughout the Roman Empire was suffering from Nero’s persecution. As many in the church were forced into hiding, a vacuum of leadership would have naturally followed. False, hedonistic and power-hungry teachers could have easily stepped into the void. Finally, Gnosticism, a later religious belief that borrowed from Christianity and later attempted to redefine Christianity, was in its infancy. Though not yet fully formed into the controversial religion to come, the seeds of its heresy were already being planted. Religious beliefs and various expressions of religion rarely began as fully formed systems of thought and belief. They began with primitive ideas that evolved, one idea springing from another, each building on the former. Though Gnosticism does not yet fully exist in the era of Peter’s ministry, the seeds of its evolution were being sown. One of the most serious challenges of Gnosticism was its coming challenge to the divinity of Christ. It is not far-fetched to believe that this challenge to Jesus’ divinity was already present in Gnosticism’s infancy. The letters of Jude, Peter, Paul, and John address these false teachers. Naturally, there are similarities when comparing these inspired texts, and many deal with challenges to the divinity of Jesus. Our task is to study the beauty and wisdom in Peter’s second letter as it is. The church has passed this letter to us with holy hands and devout reverence as scripture. Ancient church tradition passes this letter to us as having been written by Peter himself. Therefore, we accept it as given to us and prayerfully seek to mine its beautiful truth as it continues to speak today. In his own manner, Peter affirms the divinity of Jesus, offers hope to Christians to endure all forms of persecution, and offers a defense of his apostleship. As cited earlier, Peter writes repetitively in this letter, even repeating messages he has given on prior occasions. In verse 12 he writes, “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them
.” When I want my children to understand an important issue or concern I will state that concern more than once. And, I will usually state the same concern in a different manner, using slightly different words but in substance meaning the same, all in attempt to ensure they grasp what I am sharing. Some messages are just too important to treat lightly. Peter has written in the same manner in addressing his children, the church.
Historical, Theological, and Experiential Reflections on II Peter 1:1-15
2 Peter 1:1a
In the opening of his letter, the elder disciple asserts his apostolic authority. As false teachers seek to undermine his position and authority in the church, he must give a truthful defense of who he is in Christ and the calling Christ has placed upon his life. He is the servant and apostle
of the eternal Christ.
In II Peter 1:1a he writes, “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.”
We notice that in writing to the church throughout the empire, he introduces himself employing his given Jewish name, Simon
, and the Aramaic name Jesus gave him, Cephas
. The Aramaic name Cephas
and its Greek counterpart Peter
both mean the rock
. He is both Simon the Jewish fisherman and Peter, the apostle whom Jesus called the rock. He was the former competitive, impulsive Simon who made promises he could not keep and even attempted to walk on water. Now, he is an elder of the church of Jesus Christ, a founding member of the Jerusalem Council, respected as one the elders of the Jewish church. At present, he has become a captive in Rome. From the epicenter of the Roman Empire he dispenses the wisdom he has learned through his relationship with Jesus Christ. He asserts his authority in the church through the gentle yet firm reminder that he is an apostle, a calling and office placed upon him by Jesus and affirmed through the Holy Spirit. Like the prophets of old, Peter reminds the church that he does not speak for himself or on behalf of himself. He speaks for Christ on behalf of the everlasting Kingdom of God. I love the fact that Peter does not end his introduction with his claim of being an apostle. He adds the touching additional title of servant
. Peter’s use of the title servant implied that he belonged to another. In the near eastern world, being a servant most likely meant you were indebted to another as a bond-servant. Yes, his office is that of an apostle, but his heart is that of a servant, indebted to Jesus Christ who has given him a gift of life so precious he can never repay the debt. Peter’s last word to the church was, “I am not just an authority and leader in the body of Christ, I am equally a servant of Jesus.”
Why do you think having a servant’s heart is so important to those in leadership? What are the characteristics of the servant heart? What transformation do you think occurred in Peter as he moved from the compulsive insecure fisherman to the servant of the church in his final days? How can we develop a servant’s heart?
2 Peter 1:1b
“To those who through the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”
We first need to clarify the phrase “of our God and savior Jesus Christ.” Peter is not speaking of God and Jesus as separate. Instead, he is affirming that Jesus Christ is divine. Jesus was “God and savior” to Peter. Again, as the early seeds of Gnosticism were just sprouting and would eventually challenge the divinity of Jesus, Peter asserts in the beginning of his epistle that Jesus Christ is the divine Lord of all. He is “our God and savior Jesus Christ.” Early in his walk with Jesus of Nazareth he joined John and Jesus atop Mt. Hermon. It was atop this holy mount that Christ was transfigured and spoke with Elijah and Moses. Though Peter could not fully grasp the divinity of Jesus, he knew early in the ministry of Jesus that Christ transcended this world and belonged to another realm of reality, an eternal realm. Peter, like the other disciples, could never fully grasp the trinity, but yet like them was willing to stake his life upon its reality. Faith does not always mean believing in something that is impossible. Faith also means believing in something possible that we cannot fully understand
. Those nearest Jesus during his life had little doubt that he was Messiah. After his death and resurrection, it became clear that he was the “divine, eternal Messiah.” Only the eternal Christ could conquer hatred, darkness, sin, and death. Only God could forgive sins and conquer death itself. Jesus did both. The phrase that the church has “received a faith as precious as ours,” is rich in meaning. We did not create our faith or develop it through our great intellect or our own righteous living. It was given through the righteousness of God to us. God’s perfect love and goodness gave us the remarkable ability to believe and trust in God’s perfect gift of Jesus, not because we deserved it, but because he lovingly willed it. God’s righteousness revealed in Jesus has made it possible for every soul to receive the gift of saving faith. No one stands beyond the ability to believe in Christ. They have the power to choose that faith, but the faith is always present. And, Peter proclaims, “The same faith given to the apostles and all who followed Jesus from the beginning is the same faith given to every soul then, now and forever
.” As in I Peter, Simon Peter wants the church to understand that with God there is no partiality. All are in equal need of grace, and all have equally received God’s grace, love, and mercy. Peter might possess the office of apostle, but the faith that gives him life is the same faith given the newest Christian. If Peter’s writing sounds difficult to grasp here, let me attempt to simplify it without diluting it. We do not have the ability or power to earn or gain the privilege of believing in and accepting God’s gift of love and salvation in Jesus. For no other reason than God’s righteous love, all were given the ability to believe and to accept the one gift that matters most in all creation. And, this precious gift of faith is the same, identical gift that made it possible for Peter, John, Paul, Mary, and all in the beginning to believe and trust in Jesus Christ. Thus, we can understand why Peter loved using the descriptive term precious
to identify what God has given to us. No false teacher has a story as powerful, as impartial, and as available as the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gift of our faith and the power of our story can sustain us through the most severe persecution and keep us anchored in truth amid false teaching.
What does it mean to you to know that the gifts God has given you in Christ are as precious as those given to Peter, Paul, Mary and other early disciples? How can we ensure that new Christians understand there is no partiality in our faith? Do we treat all as equal in terms of importance to Christ and his church? What gifts do you recognize within yourself that are much like those belonging to Simon Peter? We often think of salvation being a gift from God; have we ever considered that even the ability to believe is a gift?
2 Peter 1:2
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The peace and grace to which Peter refers is known and experienced through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in one’s heart and through the relationships shared with other Christians within the church. It is not a “head knowledge” or knowledge gained academically, though loving God with our mind is important. When Peter repetitively employs the word “knowledge” he is not referring to the importance of knowing everything; he is speaking of the importance of knowing The One!
A vital relationship with Jesus will teach us what is important in life and in our faith. As the early Christians seek to persevere during Nero’s persecution, and seek to remain grounded in eternal truth, they will do so through a personal relationship with Jesus. A disciplined prayer life, attending worship together, and embracing the teachings of the apostles empower them to walk with Jesus, just as these disciplines empower us today.
How do you understand the difference between head knowledge of Jesus and heart knowledge? Can we have both? If so, how do they complement each other? If knowing Jesus involves a relationship with him, what helps us to daily know him?
2 Peter 1:3
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Who cannot become excited about a phrase that claims God has given us everything we need? However, some fail to read the all-important additional phrase “for a godly life.” I’ve known some well-intended immature Christians who believe Peter’s words imply that “everything we need” also includes a lot of “what we want.” We have been blessed with every gift, grace, and fruit necessary to live a godly life.
The church exists to live and express a quality of life, a life that is abundant and eternal, that when embraced allows others to witness the nature of God’s love and mercy within us. Living a godly life is to live as God lives within these imperfect jars of clay. God is good, and called us to be good! He called us through expressing his own glory to glorify him in all we do! We received the life of Jesus through the precious gift of God’s grace and love, and we will live that life as graceful people filled with God’s love. We cannot live the life of Jesus in the world unless Christ is within us!
God has given us all we need for that life, and all we need for that life is a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. A false teacher cannot replicate the life of Christ within the heart. The power over all that is destructive and dark and the love that walks beyond what is humanly possible makes false teaching pale and wither. The persecution of men like Nero cannot overcome the inner power indwelling the Christian for persecution is of this world and limited to this world
, yet the Spirit within us is not of this world and transcends this world
What does it mean to you to “have all you need for a godly life?” Can you list some things you have that make a godly life possible? Why is a godly life necessary for the world to see?
2 Peter 1:4
“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
Unlike the world ensnared by its evil desires, participating in all that is corrupt and destructive, the church of Jesus Christ has been liberated from the powers of this world and the heavy weight of human sin to live a far different life. Paul described the Christian life as “seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 2:6) The imagery of the Christian life as existing “above this world” is a common theme in the New Testament. Even when we live in this world Paul reminds us that we are not of it. This precious promise of eternal life in Jesus ensures that we have a spiritual knowledge of a higher, everlasting life than this world. God has not only made it possible for Jesus to live within us, but also for us to live within Jesus
. St. Paul uses two prepositions when describing the nature of our faith. First, Christ is in us
. Secondly, we are in Christ
. These do not imply the same state and are written separately for good reason. Most of us understand what it means to have Christ live within us. It means he has united with us in our world. He understands all that happens in our life, befriends us in all moments, and empowers us to endure and be witnesses to the Kingdom of God. However, to be “in Christ,” means that we have been allowed to unite with him in his life, in his world
! We can see truth that is beyond this world and experience eternal love greater than all expressions of love in this life. In describing this love in I Cor. 13 Paul reminded us that “now we see through a glass dimly.” To be in Christ gives us the confidence to know the assurance that we belong to his Kingdom. It is a kingdom of ultimate justice and righteousness. It is a kingdom of ultimate beauty, a kingdom without end. This confidence empowered those Christians experiencing the suffering of horrific persecution. They knew one day it would end, and they would enter the new life in all its fullness.
What is the difference between being “in Christ,” and having “Christ in us?” In what way are we united with him in “his world?” What do you think it means to sit in the heavenly realm with Christ? How is it possible to live in this world but not be of it?
2 Peter 5-9
Peter offers us a listing of the fruitful Christian life. We are given a list of what Paul called “the fruits of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5) The fruit of the Spirit is an expression of the character of Jesus. If someone asked, “What was Jesus like?” We could read them the fruits of the Spirit and we would be describing Jesus and the way he lived before God and with others. As one teaching this lesson you could offer a brief definition or study of each fruit. Honestly, studying this list of fruit can be a study of its own. However, Peter was most probably not attempting to list them in a hard and fast order. Instead, inspired by the Spirit, he lists one after the other as the fruit each Christian should bear in their life. It is helpful to note that the first fruit and gift he lists is faith. All gifts and fruit must begin with faith in Christ. Our desire to live as he lived and still lives arises from our faith in him as the Christ, the eternal Lord of all life! It is also important to note that Peter is revealing that each fruit flows from the one that preceded it. The Christian life isn’t a linear line with marks that indicate our arrival at a particular point. In other words, there is no mark that allows us to claim, “Now I have reached knowledge, now it is onward to self-control.” Walking with Christ is a fluid
relationship. One experience enhances another. One experience births another. One experience with Jesus leads into a great understanding of another. For example, I lost a very close, dear family member to suicide. As I walked with Jesus, or rather, as he walked with me, through the pain, I realized that I valued life and relationships far more than previously. I found myself to be more gracious, and I listened to others far more. There was no laid-out plan for this development in life. God used the various experiences at various times to birth fruit in my life. Each of us possess our own litany of experiences, joyful and painful. Each of them is used by God for our growth, and growth of the Kingdom of God. Again, this is the very definition of hope. Hope is the belief that God waste not a single moment in our life, but uses each moment to fashion us into the image of Christ, and to touch the world about us. Therefore, if we attempted to place this fruit in a particular order, or claim that one fruit will always follow another particular fruit, we are ignoring the fact that no two lives are the same. You cannot create a carbon copy of the development of each Christian. All of us are unique and the development of the fruit within us is equally unique. However, Peter would want us to rejoice that, through persecution, suffering, and even in confronting falsehood, God is creating each of us more and more into the image of Christ. Therefore, let us be a hopeful people, a people of joy and tremendous inner strength. After all, eternity is at work within us through the Spirit of Christ. Peter reminds the church that each of us are to possess these qualities of Jesus in increasing measure. Again, in this fluid walk with Jesus we can never say, “I have enough patience, now I need more compassion.” How much patience is enough? How much compassion is enough? We are called to walk with Jesus, allowing him to use every experience to increase the measure of fruit within us. This walk is never completed; we never arrive at a point of satisfaction, and we are never as much like Jesus as we need or want to be. But, we keep walking, learning, and growing! In closing this section on the fruit of Jesus within, if we neglect the importance of allowing Christ to increase every good and perfect gift within us, we digress. To not walk forward growing in the fruit of Christ is to digress and return to the life that bound us, corrupted us, and led to behaviors that in no way reflected the life of Christ. To abandon the faith within the soul in times of persecution, suffering, and falsehood is to accept the faithless world without.
Why do you think Jesus does not want us to compare or measure our faith against another? How are our walks in faith different from each other? How can we learn from others who stand at different places in their faith? What happens when we try to “force our own personal growth” beyond our personal experiences in life? Have you known experiences in which someone knew the head knowledge related to a particular experience, but had not walked through it experientially? What was the consequence?
Peter’s Summation: 2 Peter 1:10-15
As stated previously, Simon Peter does write repetitively in this short letter, but for understandable reasons. He dearly loves the church, and like all of us, he wants to know the life he lived was of eternal consequence. He wants to know his life mattered. He understands, like most of us, that the greatest witness to the purpose of his life will be found in the loving things he has left behind that truly matter, within the people he loved most dearly: the church of Jesus Christ. In verses 12-15 he is concerned with reminding the church of what God has done for them in Christ, or asking the church to remember what he personally has taught during his ministry. In St. Peter’s in Rome, Peter’s bones are believed to be buried beneath the chancel. The area is off limits to most. However, the spiritual monuments he left that denote a changed life, or a church founded upon truth, are everywhere throughout the Roman Empire. Tradition says that Peter did not consider himself worthy to be crucified like Jesus, so he asked to be crucified upside down. There is a sense of poetry to be found in his horrible death. He most likely was crucified upside down for having turned the world upside down for Christ. For me, I like to read verse 11 as the close to this chapter. Peter knows where he is headed. Yes, death awaits, but even more so the Kingdom of Heaven awaits him. Thus, he offers his spiritual children this final word of hope: “And you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Almighty God, we thank you for all who have passed to us our holy faith. We pray in great gratitude for those who suffered to present us with the truth of the gospel. Thank you for all who have loved the church through the years, who sacrificed that generations to come might know the saving grace of God in Christ. Empower us to be as faithful and courageous. May our hands be holy, and our hearts pure as we continue to handle the word of life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.