Thursday, February 4, 2010

Upcoming Sunday School Series: 1 Peter


On February 14, we will be starting a new series in the adult Sunday School class – an inductive study of 1 Peter.  The primary purpose for this study will be to gain an understanding of the message of 1 Peter and to apply it in practical ways to our lives. 
A secondary (but very important) purpose will be to become familiar with the process of studying the Bible.  One common reason that people do not study the Bible is that they do not know how.  I’m convinced that the responsibility for this lies predominantly with the shepherds of the church.  It is much easier to just tell the congregation what a passage means than to teach them to study for themselves.  However, love should motivate pastors and teachers to do the best thing, not the easy thing.  So rather than just giving you a fish, I’m going to try to teach you to fish.
So this ain’t your mama’s Sunday School series.  My prayer is that you will take seriously the importance of studying the Bible and use this opportunity wisely to learn to do so.  Ideally, we will all study the same passage each week and come together on Sunday morning to discuss the passage.  This discussion will be far more beneficial to all if we all come to the class with a good familiarity with the verses and themes to be covered.  If you’ll spend some time each week preparing, when we’re done I believe you will have not only a better understanding of how to study, but also a renewed sense of the depth and value of God’s Word and what obedience the book of 1 Peter requires of you.
In any study of the Bible, we should have four goals, to be tackled in the following order:
1.     Observe the text.  Here, we answer the question, “What does the text say?”
2.     Interpret the text.  “What does the text mean by what it says?”
3.     Apply the text.  “What does the text require of me?”
4.     Obey the text.  “What practical steps do I need to take to be in obedience to the text?”

The temptation for most of us will be to start right away digging into verse1 of chapter1.  However, if we do that, we run a good risk of missing the forest for the trees.  Much error can be avoided if we start out with a good overview of the book.  So, our first week or two will be dedicated to doing an overview 1 Peter.  We need to know the shape and contours of the forest before looking at individual trees.  Context is so important that the individual passages in the book simply cannot be understood without knowing what comes before and after. 
The first step in doing an overview is simply to read the book repetitively, beginning to end.  The book is only 5 chapters and can easily be read in one sitting.  I am a relatively slow reader and it takes me about 13 minutes to read the whole book.  If you can find 10-15 minutes a day to read 1 Peter in its entirety, having read the book 7 or so times before we start the series on February 14, you should have a good feel for the general content.
After reading through the text a couple of times, you can start reading it looking for specific things.  I mentioned earlier that Bible study involves observing and asking questions of the text.  Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?  Who is writing?  What is happening?  When was this written? Why was it written?  How is this accomplished?  Asking these questions will help you to develop a good basic understanding of the book. 
Here are the main things about which we want to inquire as we read:
1. Author – What can we learn about the author.  Of course, we know that Peter wrote the book, but does he say anything about himself in the book (look for 1st person pronouns – I, me, my)?  Can we glean anything from the text about his circumstances or why he is writing the book?
2. Recipients – Who are they?  Where are they?  What are their circumstances?  The circumstances of the author and recipients of an epistle will be valuable clues to the purpose and themes of the book.  What do you learn about them?
(It will be helpful to read with pen and paper in hand.  Begin jotting down things that you learn about the author and recipients.  You can also make a list of questions that you have about the text.)
3. Key words – After reading the text a few times, you will start to notice words that are used repeatedly in the book.  What are they? Make a list of these.  You can even mark them in a distinctive way in your Bible, if you like.  Write down everything you learn about these key words.  The reason we look for key words is because words represent subject matter.  These subjects lead us to the main themes. 
4. Themes – What seems to be the key content in the book?  What issues are addressed?  What exhortations are made?  What rebukes?  You can make a list of these as well.
Our goal at the end of the overview is to be able to answer in one short sentence what the book is about.  It is time-consuming hard work, but what a treasure to become more familiar with the text of God’s Word and be changed by it.
You will benefit from this study in direct proportion to how much time you spend studying.  If you can’t study at all, just try to read it once or twice before the 14th.  You’ll still benefit from the study and insight of others.  But if you can, turn off the TV and spend some time digging.  You’ll be glad you did.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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