Nicodemus, the true seeker John 3: 1:1-21
1. We start with a very familiar story. Begin by reading John 3:1-16. Read verses 1-2 again. What do they tell us about Nicodemus? Why did he come to Jesus at night and in secret? What reasons do people who are seeking God today have for keeping their interest in Christian things a secret?
2. Read verse 2 again. Even before he came to see Jesus, what did Nicodemus already know and believe? (As well as the things he says, remember that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling Council.) What kind of things can we assume seekers today already know or believe?
3. Read John 3:3-8 again. What does being “born again” or (alternative translation) being “born from above” really mean? (Note on verse 5: “born of water and of the Spirit.” Some people think that “born of water” is a reference to Christian baptism, and that Jesus is saying that believers’ baptism is essential to salvation. It is unlikely that Jesus would be so vague on such an important question. He could not have expected Nicodemus to understand such an ambiguous remark as a reference to baptism. It is much more likely that “born of water” is a reference to physical birth. “You must be born physically and spiritually as well.” This then ties in with verse 6 . “A person is born physically of human parents, but he is born spiritually of the Spirit.” (Good News).
4. Invite members of the group to share how and when they came to be “born again”.
How can a person be sure they really have been born again? (Answer – we accept new birth as a gift from God by faith.)
5. Read John 3:9-15. Jesus is asking Nicodemus to believe something he doesn’t understand. What is the relationship between understanding and faith. (Augustine’s great motto was, “I believe, in order to understand.” We should not necessarily have to understand in order to believe.)
What reasons does Jesus give which would lead Nicodemus to believe him? (In verse 11, Jesus points to his own testimony which rests on his own truthful character. In verses 12-13, Jesus claims to have existed in heaven before he was born on earth. In verses 14-15, Jesus points forward to his death on the cross and the salvation it will bring.)
6. Read John 3:16-21. What does this teach us about salvation and about judgement? Recall our last study on Romans 1:16-32. Do we really believe verse 18, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”?
7. Was Nicodemus eventually saved? Read John 7:45-52. What do verses 48 and 50-51 suggest to us about Nicodemus? Read John 19:38-42. What significant role did Nicodemus have in the Easter story? What does this show us about Nicodemus’s faith?
8. Finish by reading John 3:16, replacing “the world” by the names of the people in the group. Here is the heart of the Christian gospel. Use it as a meditation for each person to receive God’s love afresh and lead into a time of prayer.
John “the beloved disciple” Revelation 1:9-20
In studying Bible characters, we often look at the character of a person to find in their lives “examples to follow” or “sins to avoid”. We will approach some of the characters we will study in a rather different way. Such studies might equally well be entitled “Encounters with God”. Our aim is not only to learn about the person and the God they serve, but also by God’s grace to enter in some measure into their experience of their encounter with God. So in such weeks the shorter time of study questions should be used as the introduction to a time of meditation and prayer. If you are unclear about how this might work out in practice, do feel free to chat with Peter and he will explain in more detail.
1. Begin by asking the group, “What is the aim of Character studies?” Explain and discuss the rather different aim outlined above so that everybody understands where we are heading. You may wish to remind the Group of these words of David Watson.
“In many circles it is assumed that the most important thing about the Bible is its “teaching”. However, much of its poetry, its psalms, its parables, its humour and irony, is lost when it is reduced conceptually to “teaching”. It confronts us not just with information, but with verdicts. In one direction the evangelical approach may be criticised for being too cerebral. The question: “What can I learn from all this?” is not always the right one to ask. Some parts of Scripture serve not to speak about joy, but to give joy; some serve not to instruct us about reconciliation but to reconcile us. The Bible not only tells us about Christ, but also brings Christ to us.”
The Bible passages we will look at this month are intended above all to bring each one of us to a meaningful encounter with the Living God. (5 minutes)
2. Read Revelation 1:9-20. Here John, “the disciple who Jesus loved,” the one who was probably closest to Jesus as a human friend, is given a life-changing revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. What were the circumstances of this revelation? What do we need to do if we want God to reveal Himself to us? (5 minutes)
(John was imprisoned on Patmos for his faith in a time of great persecution for the church. Consequently he and the whole church were especially aware of their need for Almighty God to intervene. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” caught up in prayer when the Risen Christ appeared to Him. We need to acknowledge our need of God, and give time to prayer and seeking His face.)
Jeremiah 29:12-13 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will
listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
3. From Revelation 1:12-16, what do these images convey to us about the Risen Lord Jesus Christ? (e.g. holiness, power and glory). Ask members of the group to share which element of the vision strikes them most powerfully and why. (10 minutes)
4. What do the words of the Risen Christ in verses 17-20 have to say to us today? What difference does it make to our lives today that Jesus is the First and the Last and that He is alive for ever and ever and holds the keys of death and Hades? (Observation – our daily lives are affected a lot less by these truths than they should be!) (10 minutes)
5. Now spend at least 15 minutes responding to this passage in prayer and meditation.
I suggest an opening prayer, then reading the passage in these blocks: vv 9-11; vv 12-13; v 14; v 15; v 16; v 17; v 18; vv 19-20. Leave a significant pause after each block for silent prayer. Then lead into a time of open prayer responding to the passage together. You may like then to lead into a time of prayer for each other.
The cost of following Jesus Luke 9:18-27
1. Read Luke 9:18-27. Jesus had never said, “I am the Christ” or “I am the Son of God”. He always called Himself, “the Son of Man”. So what do you think had led Peter to this amazing declaration of faith and recognition of who Christ is? (5 minutes)
2. We are not surprised or shocked by verses 21-22 but the first disciples would have been. It is good to remind ourselves why that is? (5 minutes)
3. Read verse 23 again. Taking the three phrases one by one, discuss what it should mean for us in our daily lives to “deny himself,” “take up his cross daily” and “follow Jesus,” especially “following Jesus” in the light of verses 21-22. Encourage the group to try to suggest practical examples of how they do those things in their own lives. (20 minutes)
4. Read verses 24-25. Why do we find it so hard to recognise that how we live from day to day is of eternal importance because it will have eternal consequences? How can we warn our friends and neighbours of these truths? (5 minutes)
5. Read verse 26. In what ways are we ever tempted to be ashamed of Jesus? (5 minutes)
6. Jesus again sets our discipleship in its true eternal perspective. Do we actually live our daily lives in anticipation of the return of Christ? Why not? How must we change? (5 min)
Jesus and three “would-be” followers Luke 9:57-62
1. The Bible name for Christians, believers or followers of Jesus is “disciple”. What does the idea of discipleship mean to us? What experiences (if any) do we have of being “disciples”, e.g. any discipleship training programmes or courses? (5 minutes)
2. Read Luke 9:57-62. Here are three people who wanted to be followers of Jesus, but would only follow Him on their own terms. Two of them offered to follow Jesus, rather than Jesus calling them to follow Him as He had called Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew/Levi. How important is it to discipleship that the person is called, or chosen (see John 15:16) rather than that he volunteers? Does your group think that a powerful “conversion experience” (such as Saul/Paul on the Damascus Road) leads a person to more committed discipleship than, for example, growing up in a Christian home? (10 mins)
3. Read verses 57-58 again. In what ways can our desires and needs for comfort and security get in the way of us following Jesus? The Son of Man gave up his home life for us. What kinds of things have we given up in order to follow Jesus? (5 mins)
4. Read verses 59-60. Jesus was not being insensitive or uncaring here. The man’s father was not dead yet! “Let me first bury my father” was a contemporary way of delaying a decision. In what ways have members of the group ever been tempted to put off doing what God wants them to do? Discipleship demands immediate obedience! (5 mins)
5. Read verses 61-62. In what ways are we ever tempted to “look back”? (5 mins)
6. Jesus makes extreme and absolute demands of his disciples. Does God expect the same from disciples today? What limits or conditions do we put on following Jesus? (5 mins)
7. Spend the last 10 minutes in meditation and prayer on this passage, reading it slowly verse by verse, reflecting on our own discipleship and recommitting ourselves to God.
Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler Luke 18:17-31
1. Read Luke 18:24-25. In what ways have we (as rich people) found it hard to enter the kingdom of God? If we can’t think of many ways, that proves Jesus was right! (10 mins)
2. Read Luke 18:17-31. Why do you think Jesus demanded that this man give everything to the poor? How can we do less? Does Jesus demand the same of all rich people? (10 mins)
3. Read verses 28-31 again. Jesus talks here about the rewards of following him? How right is it to be motivated by ideas of rewards? Does what Jesus says here contradict the message of verses 18-23? (Hint: contrast material and spiritual riches.) (10 mins)
4. How does Jesus want His disciples to use (their?) riches, talents, skills and time for His glory and His purposes? What is God asking of us right now? Discuss, pray and meditate.
Dear Lord, The Rich Young Ruler obviously made the wrong choice. No matter how much wealth he had, he could never ride in a car; have surgery; turn on a light; take penicillin; hear an organ or a music group; watch TV; shower in hot water; type a letter; mow a lawn; fly in a plane; sleep on a
comfortable mattress; talk on the phone, or send emails and texts. If he was rich then what am I?
You called him to sell everything and give it all to the poor, Lord, what are you calling me to do?
Elijah – the worn-out prophet 1 Kings 19:1-18
Once again in studying this “Encounter with God” our aim is not only to learn about the person and the God they serve, but also by God’s grace to enter in some measure into their experience of their encounter with God. The study questions lead into a time of meditation and prayer.
1. Read 1 Kings 19:1-8. This passage follows God’s dramatic victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. At a point when everything is going well, Elijah is depressed!
What do we learn from verses 3-4 and 9-10 about how Elijah was feeling? Have we ever felt like Elijah? Some of the group may be open enough to admit such feelings even today. Be open and sensitive to their needs and opportunities to pray for them. (10 mins)
2. What simple practical measures does God provide as the first steps to Elijah’s restoration? How can things like tiredness and hunger affect our spiritual state? (5 mins)
3. There are times when what we most need is a fresh revelation of God. Read verses 11-13 again. What do we learn from Elijah’s experience that God was not in the wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but in the gentle whisper, the “still small voice of calm.”?
COMMENTS: Reflect on Exodus 14:13-14, “You need only to be still” and on Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” God speaks in a quiet voice. He will not raise His voice to be heard by us. He requires us to be quiet if we wish to hear Him. But so often our busyness gets in the way of us hearing God. Firstly, we are too busy to make time to listen to God. But secondly, our busyness (even in Christian activities!) can leave us complacent so that we feel that we do not need to listen to God. We must “be still”!
4. I suggest you now spend an extended time in prayer together. Read Exodus 14:13-14, Psalm 46:10 and then, slowly with short pauses, 1 Kings 19:11-13. Then spend at least 15 minutes in silent prayer. After that invite members of the group to share anything they think God may be saying to them and respond in a time of open prayer together.
James and John – Sons of Thunder! Mark 10:32-45
The important thing about following Jesus is not what we know or believe about being a disciple, but how we live that discipleship out. These studies are intended to give an opportunity for groups to share openly and honestly about difficulties and challenges we face in our personal walks with God, both to encourage and to challenge each other. Please do your best to draw everyone into the discussions.
1. Most people like to feel important. In the everyday world in which we live, what are the marks and benefits of being “an important person”? (e.g. power, wealth, popularity, security.) In the world around, how does anybody get to become “an important person”?
(e.g. birth, job, success, knowing the right people etc.) (10 minutes)
2. Read Mark 10:32-45. James and John were wanting to become “important people” in the church. Some people think that Ministers, Missionaries, Deacons, Home Group Leaders, are in some ways “important people” in the church. Is that true? Ask the group, “Have you ever wanted to become `important people’ in the church and the Kingdom of God? Have you ever wondered who that special place at the right and left hand of Jesus is reserved for? Have you ever wondered, is it for me?” (5 mins)
3. The other disciples were angry at this request by James and John – but only because they hadn’t got in quick enough to ask first! What was wrong with asking for what James and John were asking for – if anything? (N.B. this is a COMPLEX question. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be close to Jesus, wanting to become holy, or wanting to become useful to God. These are examples of things which it is GOOD to aspire to. It is BAD when Christians do not care about making progress in their discipleship. So was there anything wrong with the request James and John made? (5 mins)
4. So who will the best places in heaven be reserved for? Read verses 42-45 again. What does it mean for a disciple to become a servant and a slave? Who must we serve? What must be our attitude in serving? Discuss some practical examples of what it means to become “slave of all” both within the church and in the wider community. (15 minutes)
(Inspiring examples like Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi may spring to mind. But “becoming a slave” is an example for every Christian in every church, so talk instead about ways we should be serving each other more in our own church.)
5. Read verses 32-34 again. Jesus came to “give His life as a ransom for many” (v 45). What effects does (or should) Christ’s death as the suffering servant have on our daily lives? Read Philippians 2:6-8. Christ humbled Himself. Becoming a slave demands humility. Why do we find it so hard to serve each other in true humility? (10 minutes)
“Doubting Thomas”? John 20:19-31
Some Christians think that it “is wrong” to have doubts. They feel that we should always be able to “have faith” about everything the Bible teaches. This week we explore the issue of faith and doubt through the Risen Christ’s encounter with the apostle Thomas. Please be sensitive to allow all the members of your group to express any uncertainties or questions they may have. It might well be difficult in a group made up of mostly mature believers for anybody to admit that they have questions. It may help if you are honest and “up-front” about any issues you grapple with.
1. The comedy character Victor Meldrew’s well-known phrase is “I don’t believe it!” But are there things about the Christian faith which members of your group find difficult to believe? These could be matters of doctrine (e.g. the Virgin Birth, the existence of hell, the inspiration of the Bible) ethical issues (e.g. that homosexuality is really a sin) or pastoral issues (e.g. with all the suffering in the world is God really all powerful and all loving?) (10 minutes)
N.B. It is NOT the purpose of this evening to “solve” or even discuss all these questions of belief. It would be good to let Peter know what issues are raised so that we might address some of them in the future. Tonight we just recognise that we all have questions!
2. Read John 20:19-31. Now look again at verses 24-25. Put yourselves in Thomas’s shoes. Would YOU have believed the other disciples? Why / why not? (5 minutes)
3. Read verse 25 again. Is Thomas being reasonable to demand “proof” that Jesus is alive? How much are Christians expected to “accept everything by faith” and how legitimate is it to demand “proof” for our beliefs? What kinds of “proof” should we look for? (5 mins)
4. Read verses 26-28. What does it say to us about faith and doubt that Jesus (a) appears again to the disciples especially for Thomas’s benefit and (b) offers him exactly the kind of proof he had demanded. Do you think that Thomas actually did put his finger into the holes in Jesus’s hands, or did he not need to do that once Jesus appeared? (5 minutes)
5. What was Jesus’s attitude to Thomas here especially when He says “stop doubting and believe”? Was it anger, sadness, patience, frustration? It seems clear that Jesus was NOT criticising Thomas’s legitimate questioning, but gently leading him through to faith. What does this say to us about how God views our own doubts and questions? (5 minutes)
6. Read verses 28-31. Thomas is now the first person ever to address Jesus not merely as Son of God but as God! Jesus commends that faith and John sees it as essential to receiving eternal life. What do you think it was brought Thomas to that realisation? How true is it that doubting and questioning are essential steps in the journey to faith? (5 mins)
N.B. Remember that that Jews were strict monotheists – “there is only ONE God.” When people in the gospels called Jesus “the Son of God” they would not have understood that phrase as we do to mean “the Son, the Third Person of the Trinity”. So Thomas’s confession of Jesus as “God” really is a milestone in faith, ahead of the other disciples!
7. Read verse 29 again. Jesus is not saying that believing without seeing is any more blessed than believing on the basis of evidence. Some Christians think it is spiritual just to ignore any doubts and questions they may have, but this story challenges that idea. Return to some of the issues raised by Question 1 to ask, “What are the steps we should take, or what proof do we need, so that we can stop doubting and believe?” (10 mins)
Daniel and One like a Son of Man Daniel 10:1-21
1. Invite members of the group to share anything they believe God has been saying to them in their prayer times over the last week, and respond in prayer as appropriate. (5 mins)
2. Read Daniel 10 1-21. How did Daniel prepare to meet with God in verses 2-3? What more could we do to help us meet with God? (5 mins) (e.g. fasting, times of solitude?)
3. What physical effects did this meeting with God have on Daniel in verses 7-9, 15-19? How do we react when we hear of people who claim to have had similar experiences of falling down or “resting in the Spirit”? Read also Revelation 1:17. Would we welcome or would we resist God if He wanted to touch our lives in such ways? (5-10 minutes)
4. What do verses 12-14 teach us about prayer and persistence in prayer? (5-10 minutes)
5. Spend the rest of your time in prayer and meditation. Read Daniel 10 in these blocks with pauses in between: vv 4-5; vv 6; vv 7-9; vv 10-12; vv 15-17; vv 18-20. Then pray.
The woman caught in adultery John 8:1-11
The issue this week is the nature of grace, God’s unconditional love, and how we receive it. The questions are designed not only to teach us about grace, but also to help us experience it afresh as we focus on what the different people in the story might have felt, and how we feel in response.
1. Ask the group, “Is it necessary for a person to repent before God will forgive them?” Most Christians will answer yes to this question. The story we look at tonight suggests a different answer! (5 minutes)
2. Read John 8:1-11. How do members of the group feel about this passage? Some may question it because it does not fit easily with their understanding of repentance being a necessary precondition for forgiveness. Others may question its authenticity, in which case you may want to talk briefly about question 3 either next or at some point during the evening. (5 minutes)
3. Optional question: Does it matter to us that the text of John 8:1-11 is missing from the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel? For my answer see Note B below. (5 mins)
4. What were the motives of the Pharisees as they brought this woman to Jesus? (5 mins)
5. How do you think the woman felt as she was brought and accused before Jesus?
(Hint: it was all a set-up of course. The Jewish Law should require both man and woman to be stoned, but where was the man? For the Pharisees to “catch her” in adultery she was most likely a prostitute “caught” as she was doing what she had been paid for.) (5 mins)
6. What attitude do you think Jesus had towards this woman? (5 minutes)
7. An obvious question: why did the response, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” cause the crowds to go away? Less obvious: what can we infer from Jesus’s statement, “Neither do I condemn you.” (Answer: Jesus COULD have done so. Jesus could have thrown the first stone because He was indeed without sin). (5 minutes)
8. How do the group think the woman felt when she heard those words of Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” What does the command, “leave your life of sin” teach us about true repentance? That it is a changed life, not just contrite words (5 mins)
9. We return to our first question. “Is it necessary for a person to repent before God will forgive them?” In this story there is no suggestion at all that the woman repented before Jesus forgave her. Her repentance, leaving her life of sin, was a result of and not a precondition for the amazing forgiveness she receives from Jesus. This is the nature of grace, as Note A below explains. Take as long as you need to allow the group to wrestle with this issue. (10 minutes)
NOTE A God’s Unilateral Forgiveness
The essence of Christian forgiveness is that God makes a way for us to be forgiven BEFORE we repent. “It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) As Jackie Pullinger puts it, “Jesus didn’t wait for me to make good before he died for me.”
The Father is out looking waiting for the prodigal to return BEFORE the prodigal comes to his senses and returns to his Father and confesses and repents. (Luke 15) The paralysed man in Mark 2:5 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:11 are forgiven BEFORE they repent.
Our repentance is then the channel by which we come to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness. But it is God’s gracious act of forgiving us which prompts our repentance, NOT our repentance which earns or even opens the door to God forgiving us. The initiative comes from God.
This is NOT to say that all are saved. Only those who receive God’s forgiveness by repentance enjoy the blessings of salvation. But God’s forgiveness is UNILATERAL – originating from within his merciful character and made possible through the death of Christ on the cross. God’s forgiveness is NOT BILATERAL – not forgiveness as a response to human acknowledgement of sin. Human acknowledgement is necessary in the process of us experiencing God’s forgiveness and enjoying a reconciled relationship, but not necessary for God to forgive us.
Most human forgiveness is Bilateral – a response to confession and repentance:
Acknowledgement by the guilty -> forgiveness by the injured -> reconciliation
God’s kind of forgiveness is Unilateral – all from God’s side:
God forgives -> this prompts sinners to confess and repent -> reconciliation
THIS is the mystery of God’s amazing grace!
NOTE B The place of John 7:53-8:11 in Holy Scripture
This passage has weak external attestation, being absent from all major Greek manuscripts except D (5th-6th century) with no firm patristic support until the 4th century. Yet Burge defends the passage as a `lost pearl of ancient tradition’, `a unit of oral tradition that circulated in the early church … a stray authentic story.’ `Possibly it hibernated in Syria,’ Burge suggests, until it was included in D. Perhaps it was suppressed for 350 years because Jesus’s unconditional forgiveness of a sexual sinner did not fit within the Early Church’s notions of purity and church discipline (R.E.Brown). But finally `our text emerges as a model for the penitent adulteress and is embraced by the leading Fathers.’
Scholarly criticism points to the antiquity and authenticity of the text. … Furthermore, the story edifies the church and has often become a vehicle through which the Holy Spirit works. Are these the grounds of the Protestant canon? If so, the passage should remain firmly anchored in the NT.
Our approach here supports Burge’s conclusion that any text which has been received by the church as apostolic and through which God speaks should be regarded as Holy Scripture. Metzger believes `The account has all the earmarks of historical veracity.’ L.Morris writes, `Throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic. It rings true. R.E.Brown , G.R.Beasley-Murray and D.A.Carson agree.
Surprisingly Bruce also concurs. He believes the passage `as a genuine reminiscence of Jesus’s ministry is eminently worthy of being treaded as canonical.’
(The Nature of Biblical Authority 1995, Section 6.2.1)
Peter and Cornelius Acts 10:1-35
1. Ask the Group, “Is there any kind of person that God cannot save?” Some might suggest alcoholics or drug addicts; sexual sinners; those trapped in any kind of sin; even those who stubbornly refuse to repent. In contrast, of course, the Bible teaches that God’s grace can save anybody. But the one kind of person who may never be saved is the person who never hears the gospel because Christians never share it with them! (5 minutes)
2. Read Acts 10:1-35. What kind of man was Cornelius? Why did God go to such lengths to make sure that he could hear and respond to the gospel? Do members of the Group know any “not yet Christians” who they would describe as “devout and God-fearing”? (5 mins)
You may like to remind the Group that this story is historically important because Cornelius and his family were the first Gentile household to believe the gospel, and it was vitally important that they should be accepted into the (until then purely Jewish) Early Church. See Acts 11:1-3 and 18. But remember that God did also love and accept Cornelius and his family for themselves!
3. You may like to talk briefly about those barriers between Jews and Gentiles which meant that a Jew like would be made “ritually unclean” by associating with, and especially by eating with and staying in the home of a non-Jew like Cornelius.
Such rules which came from the Old Testament Law do not apply to Christians. But ask the Group, “Are there any kinds of people which Christians ought not to mix with?” (See Question 1 for some popular answers.) God’s answer is surely that we should be prepared to mix with all kinds of people. Difficult people may be more open to the gospel! (5 mins)
4. Jesus and His disciples had already faced the kind of prejudice Peter was struggling with. Read Matthew 8:10-13. What do these words of Jesus have to teach us? (5 mins)
5. Now to apply Questions 3 and 4 directly to our own lives and to our church. “Are we ever prejudiced?” Are there any kinds of people in Brentwood which we as Christians do not mix with (yet)? Sometimes we put up barriers because we believe (wrongly) that God does not want us to mix with certain kinds of people. What other kinds of barriers do we have which keep us away from particular people? (e.g. ignorance, fear of people who are simply different from us, fear of what other Christians might think of us, the cost to us of being involved with “demanding” people?) (5 mins)
6. Read verses 9-21 again. Peter’s first reaction to the idea of doing something new was “Surely not, Lord.” Have we ever said to God “Surely not, Lord”? About what kinds of things? Do we ever say “Surely not, Lord” about evangelism? It took three visions and a specific instruction by prophecy before Peter was able to overcome his prejudices and go to visit Cornelius. What can we learn from Peter’s experiences here? (5 mins)
7. Read again verses 28 and 34-35. God taught Peter two important lessons. What were they – and how might they apply to us? (5 mins)
8. Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Here Paul, a Jew with the same inbred prejudices as Peter, talks about becoming all things to all men. What can we learn from this about our own witness and outreach? Try to identify specific things which we should be doing as individuals and as a church to share the gospel in Brentwood (or equally in our places of work) with kinds of people that we have avoided contact with so far. (10 minutes)
Gideon and “putting out a fleece” Judges 6:33-40
We will use this passage as a starting point to discuss the question of guidance. It would be lovely if as many of your Group as possible can be encouraged to share testimonies of how God has guided them over the years. If however folk are reluctant to share, then you may want to spend more time on Bible study on guidance using the outline below.
1. Read Judges 6:33-40. Some Christians often talk about “putting out a fleece” as a way of seeking God’s guidance. What does this passage tell us about the “test” that Gideon used? (5 mins) (Note: Gideon was really looking for assurance, rather than guidance.)
2. Ask the group to share if any of them have ever “put out a fleece” for God. What was the question they were asking God? What “test” did they propose and what answer did God give them? (Timing: 5-15 minutes depending on how you want to use question 5!)
3. Read Matthew 4:5-7, Deuteronomy 6:16, and Exodus 17:1-7. Is it actually legitimate to seek God’s guidance as Gideon did, or does that count as putting God to the test? (5 mins)
(Be sensitive so that individuals’ testimonies of guidance are not criticised.)
4. Ask the Group, “In what ways does God guide us as Christians?” “In what kind of areas should we seek God’s guidance?” You could look for brief summary answers here, but it would be better to ask for people to share their own experiences of guidance. Alternatively look at some of the references in the outline below. (15-25 mins)
5. Ask the group if any of them are seeking God’s guidance or assurance in any areas of their lives at this time. If anyone is happy to share, make time to pray for them. (5 mins)
HOW DOES GOD GUIDE US? Nicky Gumbel’s outline from the Alpha Course:-
A. Commanding Scripture – Objective Standard
God’s General will (2 Tim 3:16) and Particular will (Psalm 119: 105, 130-133)
B. Controlling Spirit – Subjective Witness
God speaks as you pray (Acts 13:1-3). Sometimes Prophecy, Dreams, Visions/pictures
C. Common Sense
“God’s promises of guidance were not given to save us the problem of thinking” (John Stott)
D. Counsel of the Saints
“Make plans by seeking advice” (Proverbs 20: 18) See also Proverbs 12: 15 and 15: 22
E. Circumstantial Signs – Divine Providence
Sometimes God closes doors (Acts 16: 7) Sometimes God opens doors (1 Cor 16: 9)
Mary and Martha – Getting our Priorities Right Luke 10:38-42
Tonight’s study takes a familiar story to help us re-evaluate our priorities in life.
1. Read Luke 10:38-42. Before any other discussion, go round the group asking each person whether they relate better to Martha or to Mary? If they had been present on that occasion, would they have more naturally been with Martha preparing the hospitality or with Mary at the feet of Jesus. (5 minutes)
2. This short incident introduces us to two sorts of believers, the “Marthas” (who like to be busy with practical activities) and the “Marys” (who devote themselves to listening to God). Ask the group to describe the kinds of Christians exemplified by Martha. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being like Martha, busying ourselves in “practical” Christian activities such as hospitality and loving our neighbour? (5 minutes)
3. Now ask the same question about Mary. What are the blessings and the dangers of devoting ourselves to “spiritual” activities e.g. worship, prayer and Bible Study? (5 mins)
4. How should we understand Jesus’s words, “Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”? Does this mean that “spiritual” activities should always take precedence over “practical” action? (5 minutes)
Please note: Jesus did not tell Mary to help Martha. But nor did He command Martha to come and listen to Him! He only commented on her worrying. I hope your group will come to the conclusion that we all need a balance in our lived between the “practical” and the “spiritual”. Both Martha and Mary have something to teach us all by their examples.
5. What could we all do to become more like Mary? Ask the group to share ways they use which THEY find helpful to “sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to what He said.” (10 mins)
6. What could we all do to become more like Martha? Note that it was Martha, not Mary, who invited Jesus to come and visit them. Without Martha’s invitation and hard work, Mary would have missed her opportunity to listen and learn! Martha was busy in providing hospitality which Jesus was happy to enjoy.
You may wish to remind the Group of the recent sermon on Genesis 18:1-15, “Miracles and Hospitality”. See the references and comments below. How might we do more in hospitality in church and especially starting in your own Home Group? (15 mins)
Hospitality – philoxenia – love for strangers:
Bible references: Heb 13:2; Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:9; 1 Thess 2:8; Matt 25:34-35, 41-42, 45-46.
Hospitality is not a difficult thing. Hospitality is simply spending time together. It means welcoming people into our homes and into our lives, treating strangers as members of our family. The conversation together is much more important than any refreshment we may offer. Hospitality is at the heart of Christian fellowship and pastoral care. For more pastoral care we need less meetings but more and deeper friendships. And hospitality is at the heart of outreach and evangelism as well. “If we are too busy for a nice cup of tea and a chat, we are too busy!”