Week 22: General Epistles

Progress After This Week
Bible Foundations Plan 92%

Overview

This week, you will read the first three general epistles: James and 1 & 2 Peter. Next week, you will read the general epistles of 1, 2, &  3 John. General epistles are letters that are not addressed to a specific audience. Some of these letters were likely circulated among the churches. 

Reading & Summaries

READ: JAMES 1-2

Background: James, the half-brother of Jesus, was the leader of the Jerusalem church. He wrote to Jews that had been scattered in the Dispersion (Ja. 1:1). After the northern tribes were taken into exile, they were scattered (dispersed) across the ancient world. Some were later saved through the apostle’s missionary efforts. James wrote his epistle to be circulated among their churches. His letter is a series of tests for seeing if one’s faith in Jesus is genuine. The epistle of James is especially relevant for our day when many claim to be Christians and insist that they are saved merely because they believe in God. James shows that true faith always transforms our lives and relationships.

Ch. 1 — Trials and Temptations: God uses trials to test our faith and build our character. If we are tempted to fall away during trials, we should not blame God; temptations arise because of our own desires. God only gives good gifts. We must not only hear God’s word, but also do (obey) it. We should pursue pure religion.

Ch. 2 — Partiality; Faith and Works: Showing favoritism to certain classes of people is inconsistent with the gospel. God’s law calls us to love others; if we show partiality, we are convicted by the law as transgressors. If we say that we have faith, but do not have works, our faith is not genuine. Works justify (vindicate) us in the sight of others.

Confusing Concept — Justification by Works? The Bible clearly teaches that we are justified freely by God’s grace through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). In Romans 4, Paul defends justification by faith and uses Abraham as an example. Bible readers are often confused when James says, “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Ja. 2:24) and uses Abraham as an example of works. But James uses “justified” in a different sense than Paul. Paul addresses how we are justified (declared righteous) in the sight of God; James addresses how we are justified (vindicated) in the sight of others. Paul addresses one problem: those who think their works gain saving merit with God. James addresses another problem: those who profess to have faith, but have no works. Since true faith always produces good works, the claim of these people cannot be justified (vindicated). James clearly agrees with Paul about the gospel. Earlier, he writes that the new birth which comes by the word of the truth of the gospel is a good gift (1:17-18).

READ: JAMES 3-5

Ch. 3 — The Tongue; Spiritual Wisdom: The tongue cannot be tamed without divine aid; if a man can control his tongue, he will be disciplined enough to control the rest of his lie. It is hypocritical to praise God while speaking unkindly to others. God’s wisdom starts with pure motives and sows peace through gentleness and meekness

Ch. 4 — Worldliness: Conflict in relationships is evidence that we are allowing selfish desires to reign. This is how the world acts, and worldliness makes us the enemy of God. We should humble ourselves, submit to God’s discipline, and ask for God to change us by his grace. Slander against our brothers is forbidden. We should not boast that we are in control of our destiny; no one is guaranteed tomorrow apart from God’s will.

Ch. 5 — Patience Suffering: Self-indulgent and oppressive rich people are condemned. Christians are encouraged to be steadfast in suffering, presumably at the hands of the rich. We should bring our needs to God in faith through prayer.

READ: 1 PETER 1-2

Ch. 1 — Born Again; Called to Holiness: Peter blesses God for the living hope of those who are born again: Jesus will come again to provide final salvation. For our sake, the prophets foretold Christ’s sufferings and our salvation. Until Christ returns, we endure suffering through faith and rejoicing. While we pass through this world as exiles, we must live holy lives, worthy of the Savior who shed his blood for us.

Ch. 2 — Living Stones: God’s people are “living stones” in the house that God is building upon Jesus, the chief cornerstone. God’s special people are to abstain from worldly passions and “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9). Christians are to submit themselves to human institutions, i.e. the government; servants are to submit themselves to their masters.

Key Concept — Submission: Peter instructs Christians to be subject to every human institution. In chapter 3, he goes on to instruct servants to be subject to their masters (i.e. employees to their bosses), and wives to be subject to their husbands. Submission characterizes every part of the Christian life. We express our submission to God by submitting to the authorities that he has established in our lives.

Inductive Bible study: As you read, track the word “suffer.” Highlight each occurrence in GREEN.

Recommended sermon: Called Unto Holiness: A Life Worthy of Our Savior (1 Peter 1:13-25).

READ: 1 PETER 3-5

Ch. 3 — Wives and Husbands; Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake: Wives are to be respectful and submissive to their husbands, adorned not with jewelry or immodest clothing but with “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (3:4). Husbands are to honor their wives and treat them in an understanding way, since they are spiritual equals; if they do not, God will not hear their prayers.

Ch. 4 — Suffering as Christians: Christians should reject worldly pleasures, but expect to be criticized for doing so, since the world does not understand. We should be good steward God’s grace, serving one another with the gifts that God has given us. Suffering for Christ’s name is a normal part of the Christian life; we should trust God and do good.

Ch. 5 — Shepherd the Flock; Humility: Elders in the church are instructed to willingly lead by example. Christians should be humble that they may receive God’s grace and resist the devil.

FAQ — Why does Peter say that “Baptism…now saves you” (3:21)? Peter immediately qualifies his statement by adding, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good consciense.” The waters of baptism do not wash away sin; rather, baptism is a God-ordained means for people to appeal to God in repentance and faith. True faith calls on God, and baptism is one way for people to call. Just as Noah was taken into the ark by God (3:20), baptism is a way of asking God to be taken into Christ—the only safe shelter from the floods of God’s judgment.

READ: 2 PETER 1-3

Ch. 1 — Confirm Your Calling; God’s Inspired Word: We should stand firm in our Christian calling by practicing the qualities that are consistent with God’s divine nature. Peter and the apostles passed on what they had witnessed of Christ’s glory; this was foretold by the prophets who wrote as they were carried along (inspired) by the Spirit.

Ch. 2 — False Teachers: False prophets and false teachers will be destroyed. God’s works in the Old Testament show that he is able to punish the unrighteous while rescuing the godly.

Ch. 3 — The Day of the Lord: In the last days, sinful people will mock the teaching of Christ’s return. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (3:10), and the heavens and earth will be destroyed along with the ungodly; therefore, we should be thoroughly  holy and patient.

Study Exercises

When exercises require a written response, record your answers in a journal or email them to a pastor or class leader who will provide you with feedback.

  1. What questions do you have about this week’s reading?
  2. What is the end result of following one’s desires (Jas. 1:14-15)?
  3. What two things characterize pure religion (Jas. 1:27)? Summarize each in one word.
  4. What characterizes godly wisdom (Jas. 3:17)?
  5. Sin is often defined as doing what is wrong. What else is sin (Jas. 4:17)?
  6. What qualities of effective prayer are given in James 5:13-18?
  7. How is the Trinity at work in our salvation (1 Pet. 1:2)?
  8. What is the 21st century equivalent of servants submitting to their masters (1 Pet. 2:18)? How can you apply this verse to your life?
  9. What qualities should characterize godly women and men (1 Pet. 3:1-7)? If you are a woman, write a few sentences on how you can grow in light of verses 1-6. If you are a man, do the same in light of verse 7.
  10. Having tracked the word “suffer” in 1 Peter, list five to seven reasons why Christians can rejoice in trials and suffering.
  11. How should we expect the world to react to those who live a holy life (1 Pet. 4:4)?
  12. Why has God given us many great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4)?