The “How” and “What” of 1 Peter pt. 1

We often teach the Bible through exposition and application. That is, we usually break down the content of a particular passage and then add in some modern-day life lesson at the end. There is nothing wrong with teaching in this way. But I wonder if we are doing people a disservice when we teach the Bible like this all the time.

This grouping of blog posts comes from a lesson series I created for my youth group in a previous ministry. I titled it the “’How’ and ‘What’ of 1 Peter,” as I felt particularly burdened to begin teaching the teens there how to study scripture for themselves. We also bought each teen a copy of Crossway’s ESV scripture journal to take home with them.[1] These journals have scripture on one side and then a large area to take notes on the other. We encouraged our teens to read sections of the book ahead of time, highlight that which stuck out to them, and then write down any questions they might have had when doing personal devotions.

The different parts in this blog series correspond to the different areas in 1 Peter we asked our teens to read throughout our study. These lessons have been reworked a bit so that they read better in this format. However, I am posting them now with the hope that you can find use for them in your own personal discipleship with others. May these lessons spur you on to make sure that the “how” of scripture is taught equally alongside the “what.”   

Introducing the “How” and “What” of 1 Peter (youth group lesson transcript taught on 10.2.19)

We are going to begin a study on one particular book within the New Testament in our Bibles: 1 Peter. This book is really relevant for a lot of stuff that many teenagers are going through today. You’ll see what I mean.

However, I don’t want to study 1 Peter in an information-dump lecture type of way. We can and will talk a lot about the “what” of the book. But I’d really like to spend a lot of time on the “how” of the book. What I mean is this: It can be somewhat helpful for myself or your small group leader to teach on a book of the Bible. Through that, you might be able to learn a few things you didn’t know before. But it is probably more helpful to teach you how to study a biblical book for yourself. The old adage really is true, right? “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”

So, here’s how we are going to do that. Not ever week [or blog post, in this medium] the same. Some weeks we will be doing everything together. Other weeks we are going to split up into our small groups for discussion. But each one of you will also get one of these: (hand out ESV scripture journals)

My ESV scripture journal.

I would like us to use these as our study text as we dive deeper into 1 Peter. You don’t have to bring it home if you don’t want to, but I really want to challenge you all to take these journals home and to begin practicing what we will be talking about. They are easy to read and have a lot of room to write question. You can highlight stuff you might interesting. And we’ve even made fun stickers you can decorate your journals with!

Let’s start with a bit of the “how” before we move into the “what.”

Group Activity: [For this activity, I had several copies of paper for each group. There was a copy of a page from Dracula, a printed-out YouTube comment thread, a break up letter written from a girlfriend to her ex-boyfriend, a resignation letter, a Shel Silverstein poem, and a copy of a page from a Star Wars novel.]

Here’s what I want you all to do. Let’s break up into groups of three. You and the two other people sitting on each side of you. Our small group leaders are going to come around and give each of your groups a few pieces of paper. Read them out loud. And then try to figure out what type of “genre” they represent. Each paper is a different genre. Go!

Question: What did you discover? What are the different genres that you have in front of you?

There was horror, science fiction, poetry, and a few different types of letters among other things. But did you know that there are different types of genres in the Bible too? And that’s something super important to recognize when we attempt to read biblical books on our own. You wouldn’t read a science fiction novel like a historical non-fiction, nor a poem like a receipt from Walmart! You shouldn’t read books in the Bible with different genres like that either.

And here’s a hint for you all. 1 Peter is a “letter.” It’s specifically something called an epistle, which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s a letter written to a group of people with a didactic meaning. Peter is writing to his friends. But he’s also trying to teach them something through this letter too.

But let’s read some of Peter’s letter so we can recognize that a bit more.

Read: 1 Peter 1:1-2.

Question: What’s going on here? What does the opening of Peter’s letter have in common with some of the other letters we just read in our activity?

There’s a section that let’s you know who the letter’s from: Peter. There is also a line that tells you who it is being written to: the elect exiles who are scattered throughout the providences of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

And this, actually, leads us to another important part of studying biblical books. You should try to recognize its genre but knowing the historical background behind the books helps a whole lot too. And you can usually find information about this in the introduction to the book in a good study Bible. There’s also a whole bunch of really well put together YouTube videos by “The Bible Project” on their channel. And those videos are animated too, so that’s fun.

Question: But along the lines of historical background, why might Peter have called the people he was writing to “exiles?”

Well, here’s a bit of background that might help us understand what’s going on. Peter, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples turned church leader within the Jerusalem church, is writing to a bunch of churches during a time in history that many call the Jewish Diaspora.

A few decades after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, both the early church and the Jewish people began to face really crazy persecution under the Roman government. Think forced gladiator fights, lions ripping people apart limb-from-limb, intentional house burning, false accusations, and stuff like that. And eventually, most of the Jews and Christians left Jerusalem and began to settle in different surrounding cities and countries like Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These are all areas in or near what we understand to be the modern-day country of Turkey.

More than this, Peter uses the word “exile” likely for a very specific reason. In the Old Testament, Israel was exiled into the land of Babylon. They were forced to live in a city that was not their own. And Peter’s probably using that language as a description of something like his readers are going through. They have been forced to leave their hometown. They’re now elsewhere, probably really homesick, and might even be feeling a bit hopeless because of all of that suffering and persecution.

And that is exactly what Peter is trying to address. Let’s read just a bit further in 1 Peter to see what he is going to write next.

Read: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Question: If you were an exiled believer living in a land not your own, how might what Peter just wrote be helpful or encouraging to you?

Christian hope is founded securely in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. That is to say, because we follow Jesus, we can be confident that we have salvation in him and we too will resurrect from the dead one day into eternal life. Death will be defeated. Sin will be conquered. Pain will be gone, and those who inflict pain will be punished.

And to those people that Peter was writing to, those who were currently experiencing intense suffering, he explains that their suffering is kind of acting like “refining fire.” Just like a really hot flame purifies metals, the terrible experiences they are going through are teaching them to both stand even stronger for Jesus and to hope even greater for his kingdom come. 

There’s one other piece of the how that I’d like to talk about real fast before we wrap this up. And that’s the application portion of all of this.

The Bible, and specifically the biblical letters we find in the New Testament, all were addressed to specific people in a specific time period. They all have original meaning which is contextual. They were written for a first century purpose. But the Bible is also God’s word to us. We get to read other people’s mail and can get something out of it on a personal level.

There are rules. The application we find should be based on the original meaning. We can’t just read the word “gold” and “inheritance” in verse 7 and somehow twist that to mean something like we’re going to gain worldly riches or physical gold if we have enough faith. That’s not what Peter meant so we can’t conclude that from this text. But, we can and should find modern-day application, through the direction of the Spirit, that we can take away for our lives now.    

So, let’s try it: Raise your hand if you’ve ever been bullied for your faith. Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced death in some way or another. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt hopeless at times. Raise your hand if you’ve ever doubted your faith, or if God truly does have a plan in this crazy world.

If you raised your hand to any of those things, 1 Peter should speak to you. Like those elect exiles suffering in a place not their own, you might be suffering in your own way at this moment. But Peter’s advice would be the same nonetheless.

Jesus is coming back. Your suffering at this moment might actually be a lesson in disguise meant to teach you something important. But, rest assured, if you stand strong for the Lord, what is coming soon is worth it. No suffering in the world could compare to the glory of God’s kingdom.

Challenge: Next time, as we continue to pursue both the “how” and “what” of 1 Peter, we’re going to be looking at 1 Peter 2:18-3:7. My challenge to you this week is to read the rest of chapter 1 and all of chapter 2. Think of questions that you might have about those chapters, and be prepared to have a conversation about them with your small group leaders.


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