Living as Witnesses (in a World Dominated by Self-Interest) (1 Peter 3.1-7; 13-17)


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INTERACTING WITH THE SERMON

SYNOPSIS OF THE SERMON

Peter urges early Christians to live differently than the whole world. He said: we are resident aliens; we are to live a different life. Peter encourages Christians throughout the book and in the text to hold their rights and their interests with a loose hand, to not believe that their world is over because they have been slighted, or someone took something from them, or their rights have been stepped on. Peter encourages early Christians to view themselves as having a higher calling. And in 1 Peter 3, the higher calling was to live as witnesses to truth and witnesses to Christ.

The first context Peter addresses is bearing witness in marriage (vv. 1-3). Pastor Rich said we can’t fail to read the passage in its cultural context. There were 1st century Greco-Roman assumptions about roles and rights in marriage into which Peter was saying “wives, as much as you can, lower the temperature in your home. As much as you can, where you will not be doing what God has forbidden, or failing to do what God has commanded, go along with your husband and your culture”. The second way we misread these verses is without an “evangelistic” context (“so that” – Tit 2:4-5, 7-8, 9-10). The advice goes, “Live in a way that lowers the tension in your home. And live in a way that lowers the tension with the community that you find yourself in.” We’re challenged to make Jesus the issue – and not secondary things.

When dealing with unsaved spouses, neighbors, co-workers – don’t just “tell” them the Gospel, “demonstrate” the Gospel. Bill Hybels said, “Before we become highly contagious Christians we must first live in a way that convinces people around us that we actually have the disease ourselves. To quote an old Proverb: Your spouse probably doesn’t need a definition of Christianity as much as he or she needs a demonstration of Christianity.” And don’t forget that God is the main actor in people’s lives, not us. There is a difference between being responsible to and being responsible for. We’re responsible to love another person, to be generous, to be forgiving, but not responsible for another human being’s bad or unfaithful choices.

The sermon closed with a hard look at v. 15. Pastor Rich said Jesus has three accusations leveled against him by non-Christians that Followers of Jesus play a part in defending. The first, is the question of Love – we have the power to demonstrate how Jesus loves to people around us. The second challenge is of Relevance – we need to show our kids, our spouses and those around us that it matters that Jesus in number one in our lives. It matters that He’s at the center of our universe. The final challenge is one of truth. There are real questions people have and not only do we want to answer well, but we want to answer in a “manner” that truly reveals Christ and his heart. Our witness to Christ is not just in our words, but in our whole life.

In 5 minutes or less, briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon. What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling? Explain.

GETTING THE CONVERSATION STARTED

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

•What are one or two things from this weekend’s sermon that really stood out to you?

•Does the point Pastor Rich made about bearing witness with “manner of Christ” resonate with you? Why? Have you seen God use you to bear witness to Christ in any surprising ways? Please share briefly.

•Are there any hard questions you’ve been asked by non-believers (kids, family members, co-workers), or “challenges” you’ve encountered to Christ that cause you to doubt or feel threatened in your faith? Consider sharing briefly and perhaps others in the group have encountered or experienced similar things. (No immediate answers are necessary, but it can be helpful to verbalize what people are dealing with – consider following up after the group or sometime during the week)

SCRIPTURE STUDY

Acts 17:22-34:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.



Context: (particularly read 17:1-21) Paul parted ways with Barnabas at the end of Acts 15. Then Paul took Silas and went north through Syria and into Turkey (15:40-16:8). We also read about the Holy Spirit directing their steps (16:7). In a dream, Paul is “called” to go to Macedonia, which includes the northern territory above modern day Greece. They first visit Thessalonica and meet resistance. Then they leave town and go to Berea, but again have trouble and Paul is whisked away on a boat down to Athens. At this point Paul is probably wondering why in the world he ever came to Macedonia…what was the Holy Spirit up to? It is certainly was not clear based on Luke’s narrative that Paul intended to go there…

Have you ever had a situation where you were certain God wanted you to do something, or speak to someone, or go somewhere and it seemed pretty obvious that after doing it that you must have gotten it wrong? Please share briefly.

vv. 16-17 Paul finds himself waiting around in Athens (not a place he “planned” to be). What do you know of Ancient Greeks (v.21)? What does he see in Athens? How does Paul feel, and why? What does he do? What’s Paul’s deeper motivation?

Is there anything that “distresses” you – is there anything that you can’t help but be moved into action like Paul (i.e. injustice, the poor, development issues, healthy marriages, etc)? What is it, and share briefly why you care so much about it.

vv. 18-21 Who are the Epicureans and Stoics (Epicureans believe the Gods and the world were separate and distant, with little or no communication, the goal on earth was to maximize pleasure while not disturbing others too much. Stoics believed divinity rested within every human and effort was made to get in touch with that divinity and discover that inner divine rationality). While in the market place does Paul encounter any resistance? If so, what kind? (answer – both mocking and ridicule, and also a challenge to speak openly and be judged by the court of Aeropagus – the threat of “advocating foreign gods” was the same threat leveled against Socrates who was condemned to die) What door opens up for Paul? It was an opportunity, but also a great risk.

Have you encountered a situation where you were standing up for the gospel to an audience that could possibly harm you in some way – perhaps at work, or at school, or in your family? What happened? How did God use you and your witness to Him in that situation? Was it worth it?

v. 22 What does Paul do with this opportunity/risk? He “stood up”. This is a very brave action and Luke, the writer of Acts gives much attention to this scene (12 long verses). Paul could have been judged harshly for his words in this Greek court, but he proceeds rather boldly. What verses or scripture might have passed through his mind as he was waiting to speak? What truths do you rely on when you’re facing something particularly threatening? Where does your strength come from?

After reading over his “speech” (vv 22-31) – what attitude(s) does Paul display, and not display in talking with these unbelievers? How does Paul’s approach, his manner, challenge you?

V. 23 What does Paul assume about his audience (answer – they might actually be looking for this unknown god, though they’re ignorant of him)? How does it change your approach with people if you believe they’re really looking for God? Do you have something that people really wany?

How sure are you that your “philosophy” for life is the right one? Do you wrestle at all with doubt? And what do you do with your doubts?

Paul is so clever – he uses a cultural signpost (a compass) that is relevant to the Athenians (an idol to an unknown God) to bridge the world and message of the Gospel into their lives. Have you ever discovered a personal “compass” in someone’s life that helped connect the gospel message is a real and powerful way? Please share briefly.

Vv. 24-31 How does Paul address the distance between man and God felt by the Epicureans (v.27)? How does Paul address the in-distinction between Divine God and mankind for the Stoics (vv. 24-26)?

Paul actually tries to answer questions people have. This is an important step, because he’s obviously taken the time to understand their point of view and their beliefs. In a profoundly eloquent way, Paul introduces the Gospel to people so that they can, at the very least, have a chance to comprehend it. And some do (vv. 32-34). That is what God asks us to do with our friends, family, and co-workers.

(You could spend much more time analyzing Paul’s speech at the Areopagus, but time constraints don’t allow it.)

MINISTRY APPLICATION

Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.

What has challenged you from the weekend’s message, or this teaching from Acts 17? How might God be asking you to change your attitude or demeanor so as to bear greater witness to Him? How might God be asking you to “stand up” and bear witness even in a challenging, or threatening, circumstance? Pray with another brother or sister for God to change your heart and prepare you.

Are you wrestling with any doubts? Has your faith eroded in any way because of serious questions you or others close to you have? Share that with one or two others and take that burden and doubt before God? Consider new ways God might open for you to address those doubts and concerns. Ask God for more of his assuring presence.