Introduction – What is “the Kingdom of Heaven”?
“The Kingdom of God” was the heart of Jesus’s message as the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record it. As a good Jew, Matthew would never dare speak or write the name of “God” so instead he uses the paraphrase “The Kingdom of heaven” to mean exactly the same thing. But what does “The Kingdom of God” or “the Kingdom of heaven” really mean?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:16-21)
When Jesus read those words from Isaiah 61 in the Synagogue at Nazareth, He also said, “TODAY this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He began to preach to everyone, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News.” (Mk 1:15)
We think of a “kingdom” as the place or the people over which a king rules. But the word Jesus used in Aramaic describes much more the things a king DOES. “The Kingdom of God” (or the Kingdom of heaven) refers to God’s ACTIONS as King over His world – GOD’S KINGLY RULE.
Jesus Christ came as the Jewish Messiah, God’s “Anointed One”, the King the Jewish people were waiting for, to bring God’s chosen people deliverance from their enemies and to bring in the Reign of God on earth, putting right the wrongs of “this present age” and bringing in all the blessings of “the age to come”. Jesus brought “God’s Rule as King” in ACTIONS – healing the sick and driving out demons, and showing God’s love to everybody, even tax collectors like Matthew. Jesus also brought “God’s Rule as King” in WORDS, preaching and teaching about God and salvation, and forgiving sins which only God could do!
Overview of the Sermon on the Mount
By His life, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law and brought it to completion (Matt 5:17-20). He brought the beginnings of God’s Kingly Rule (which will only be completely fulfilled at His Second Coming) which turns the world’s values upside-down (5:1-16)! And Jesus created a new Covenant which gives His disciples a new relationship with God as Father (6:1-7:12) and new relationships with each other (5:21-48). This new relationship demands good deeds (5:16) and a greater righteousness (5:20). It demands the good fruit (7:16-20) of doing the Father’s will (7:21).
Here in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus teaching his disciples, “This is what it is like when God is King – this is how you should live.” Some people believe Jesus actually gave all this teaching on one occasion. Others believe Matthew collected together teaching from different occasions and arranged it this way, perhaps to make a parallel to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Either way, these ARE the words of the Lord Jesus Christ – so we are wise to build our house on the rock and obey all that Jesus commands us!
Home Group meetings for January to April 2012 from Matthew 5-7
What life is like when God reigns as King
1. Reasons to be cheerful (5:1-16)
2. Attitudes and obedience (5:17-32)
3. Telling the truth (5:33-37)
4. Loving your enemies (5:38-48)
5. When you give (6:1-4)
6. When you pray (6:5-15 and 7:7-11)
7. When you fast (6:16-18)
8. Treasures in heaven (6:19-34)
9. Don’t worry – be happy (6:25-34)
10. Judging and discerning (7:1-6 and 7:15-20)
11. Hearing and doing (7:12-14 and 7:21-29)
There are enough copies of the Introduction on page 1 for everybody, but otherwise these notes are produced for the person leading, rather than the whole Group. I am of course happy to provide copies of these notes to anybody who asks for them.
Feel free to adapt the studies to suit your group. I will try to indicate alternative approaches to the material from week to week. May I remind you that in all my notes I follow certain conventions.
Whenever Bible readings are listed in bold italics e.g. Matthew 5:1-10 these are passages that you will usually want to read aloud in the group. Other Bible passages are given for silent reading, for reference or for your own use. Unless otherwise stated I have based questions on the New International Version but feel free to use a variety of translations.
For Leaders who appreciate being given suggested wording for questions, I include such questions in “inverted commas.” Feel free to use your own wording instead and invent supplementary questions as you choose.
Any timings given are simply a rough guide.
I will sometimes suggest relevant topics for prayer but I assume that almost all Home Group meetings will include time praying about what you have studied and also for each other in your different needs, for those absent and for church events and activities.
1. Reasons to be cheerful Matthew 5:1-16
There is so much material in this study you may wish to take it over two weeks, using one week for the Beatitudes (question 3) and another week for the other verses.
1. Many people will think they already know the Sermon on the Mount. Before opening your Bibles, ask folk which parts they think are most important. Gently look to see whether the passages they suggest are actually in Matthew 5-7, and if they have remembered them correctly! Then read Matthew 7:24-25. In all your studies encourage folk to share what they have learned previously from the Sermon on the Mount. But week by week continually remind them of the Parable of the Two House Builders. Hearing Jesus’s teaching is not enough. We have to OBEY IT! (10 minutes)
2. Every member should be given a copy of the Introduction and Overview on page 1. Give everybody a few minutes to read through it, then comment or briefly discuss it. (5 mins)
3. Read Matthew 5:1-10. These are Jesus’s “reasons to be cheerful”. They are the ways in which the values of this “upside-down world” are turned the right way up again when God reigns as king. In the world’s eyes it is foolishness, weakness and failure to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to seek righteousness, to be merciful and pure, to be peacemakers or to be persecuted. But when God acts as King, such people are indeed blessed. Note that Jesus is not saying we must try to become these things, but rather that people who already have these characteristics are already blessed by God.
Note: “They shall be comforted” is Matthew again reverentially avoiding using the name of “God”. What it means is “God will comfort them” and similarly in the other sayings.
Ask group members whether they think any of these “beatitudes” (blessedness sayings) apply to them in their own lives? Which saying is most precious to them? (10 minutes)
4. Read Matthew 5:10-12. Ask if any members of the group have ever experienced persecution in any ways? Is it easy to rejoice in such circumstances? Do we find the promise of blessing waiting in heaven much consolation when we are suffering on earth? You may like to spend some time thinking and praying for persecuted Christians.
5. Read Matthew 5:13-16. What does it mean in practice for us to be salt and light in a dark world? How should our lives be different tomorrow as a result of this study? (10 mins)
2. Attitudes and Obedience Matthew 5:17-32
There are no suggested timings below, since you will want to pick and choose your questions depending on the maturity and needs of your group.
1. Ask your group, “What is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments? Between Judaism and Christianity?” Then read Matthew 5:17-20?
What does Jesus mean? “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (NIV)
Answer: Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies e.g. 1:22-23; 2:14; 2:17-18; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:9-10. Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath”, One greater than great King David (12:1-14), “One greater than Jonah” and “One greater than Solomon” (12:39-42). Jesus is the beloved Son murdered by the wicked Tenants in the Vineyard (21:33-46). To “fulfil” the Law here really means “to bring to its destined conclusion, to completeness.” Jesus Christ is the only human being ever who obeyed the Law completely.
2. “So are Christians obliged to keep the Jewish Law?” Read again Matthew 5:18-20.
Answer: Jesus has fulfilled all the Law’s requirements. This has set Christians free from the requirements of the Law (Romans 8:1-4; Romans 6:14-16; remember also our studies in Galatians e.g. 2:15-16; 3:10-14). As Christians our conduct should be determined, not by obedience to rules and regulations, but by our relationship to Christ. We live in accordance with the Law when we live as Christ (who fulfilled the Law) calls us to do, not by following specific Old Testament commandments.
3. Read Matthew 5:20 again. What is this “greater righteousness” Jesus is talking about? There are two aspects to this answer:
(a) It is the righteous living which comes from our relationship with Christ, as we discussed in question 2 above.
(b) It is righteous living which looks deeper than our outward actions, and springs from right inward attitudes. Jesus goes on to explain this by three examples.
4. Read Matthew 5:21-22 and 25-26. Anger is as serious as murder. Ask the group how they cope with people that hurt or upset them? Have they ever had murderous thoughts?
5. Read Matthew 5:23-24. Worship is spoiled by broken relationships. Discuss what we should do to ensure that our worship is not spoiled and how we can be truly reconciled.
6. Read Matthew 5:27-30. Lust is as serious as adultery. Discuss (sensitively) how we can make sure that our thought life remains pure. Should we take verses 29-30 literally?
(No – they are hyperbole, extreme language to emphasise an important principle. This is an example of a focal instance, using extreme language to bring a point into sharp focus.)
P.S. I have deliberately missed out Matthew 5:31-32 on divorce because this passage is both theologically difficult and pastorally sensitive. I will preach on this subject with detailed notes for everyone sometime soon.
3. Telling the truth Matthew 5:33-37
As with so many parts of the Sermon on the Mount, most people know what this passage says, but don’t necessarily live it out in their lives. Remind the group gently that the wise man who built his house on the rock was the one who heard AND obeyed the teachings of Jesus!
1. Read Matthew 5:33-37. Read also James 5:12. What should be our attitudes to taking oaths (e.g. in a court of Law)? Jesus is stressing the importance of integrity, being the kind of people who can be relied on always to tell the truth. Ask the group if there have ever been situations they have faced where they have “told a white lie” for any reason? Looking back, do they think they were justified in doing so? (10 minutes)
2. Look at the Ninth Commandment in Exodus 20:16 in as many translations as you have. What does “giving false testimony actually refer to”? Read also Deuteronomy 19:15-20. (5 minutes)
3. Read Acts 5:1-11. What actually was the sin Ananias and Sapphira committed? Is lying in the church or to church leaders any worse than in other contexts? What lessons does this passage have for us today? (15 minutes)
4. There are many ways we can be tempted to “bend the truth” or “be economical with the truth”. In this world filled with superlatives, we can be tempted to exaggerate.
Even in giving a testimony, I can hint that my life before I became a Christian was more wicked than actually it was, or proclaim that my joy and peace and love for God are greater than actually they are. We think that these things will bring greater glory to God – when in fact they are lies. Ask the group if any of them would confess to having ever lied by exaggeration ? (15 mins)
5. The sins of gossiping and spreading rumours and half-truths can be as damaging as lies. Read e.g. Colossians 3:8-9; 1 Timothy 5:13; 3 John 10. What can we do to make sure we do not fall into these kinds of sins? (5 minutes)
6. Ask the group, “Is concealing the truth, or remaining silent about the truth we know, as serious as lying?” Then read Luke 9:26. We have “truth to tell”. How can we remain silent? (5 minutes)
4. Loving your enemies Matthew 5:38-48
This is a challenging portion of Scripture in the light of world events, brought into even sharper focus if we think about events such as the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on the 11th of September 2001. There is enough material here for at least two separate weeks so feel free to spread the study out if you prefer. Try to balance time spent on discussing world issues with time spent on “loving our enemies” in OUR day-to-day lives.
1. Read Matthew 5:48. This command sums up the whole of the Sermon on the Mount. God’s children should live up to God’s perfect standards. But ask the group – is this realistic? Does God actually demand perfection from us? Can any of us hope to achieve this? Or is it just an “ideal” to aim at? Is this a requirement for ALL people, or just for disciples? (Look carefully back at 5:1-2 – Jesus was teaching his disciples at this point.)
2. Read Matthew 5:38-42. Can any of the group think of situations where they have (or should have) “turned the other cheek”? How did they feel? Was this an easy command to obey?
3. Read verse 41 again. Under Roman Law any of the occupying Roman troops could require an Israelite to carry their load for a mile. Under what circumstances have any of the group ever “gone the extra mile”?
4. Read verse 42 again. This sounds like a recipe for financial ruin! How should we obey this command in practice?
5. Read Matthew 5:43-48. What enemies do we have in our everyday lives? (e.g. at work, neighbours, family members?) What should we be doing to “love our enemies” in practice?
6. What do the group feel about pacifism? Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Read Matthew 5:39 again: “Do not resist an evil person.” Read Matthew 26:49-52. “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” In the Second Century Tertullian wrote, “In disarming Peter, Jesus disarmed all soldiers. … We cannot kill anybody for whom Christ died.” Our Baptist ancestors the Anabaptists, together with the Brethren and more recently the Mennonites and the Quakers, have strongly defended the cause of pacifism and non-violence. Do different principles apply to issues where individuals take a pacifist position, in contrast to nations going to war? Is violence ever justified?
7. How do the group feel this teaching on loving our enemies should be applied to world events? Is the Sermon on the Mount relevant or authoritative here? If not, why not?
Questions 6 and 7 are very sensitive and also more complicated than they appear. Remember that Christians may have sincerely held but completely opposing viewpoints. As background, Group Leaders might like to recall sermons I preached on the Prayer of St Francis which you will find on the blog at www.pbthomas.com/blog You may also like to read to your group the passage on the next page where Corrie ten Boom talks about forgiveness.
Corrie Ten Boom shares this true story in her book, “The Hiding Place”:
“It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S. S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?
Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.
From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself. To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.
5. When you give Matthew 6:1-4
1. Read Matthew 6:1-4. Jesus says, “When you give to the needy.” Giving to the poor is a Christian duty. The Jewish Law required the practice of “tithing”, giving one tenth of all produce to God. See Leviticus 27:30-32 and Deuteronomy 26:1-13. Read Deuteronomy 14:28-29. One third of all tithes were to be given specifically to “the Levites … the aliens, the fatherless and the widows”. Then, over and above the tithes, Israelites were expected to give “special gifts and freewill offerings”. Read Deuteronomy 12:4-7. Are these Old Testament rules binding on Christians too? (Contrast with Matthew 5:17-20).
2. The New Testament also encourages Christians to give, especially to the poor. Read Acts 4:32-37; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, and 2 Corinthians 8:5-12. What principles should govern our giving as Christians? How do we decide how much to give? How should we divide our giving between the church and other good causes?
3. Read Matthew 6:1-4 again. Compare this with Matthew 5:16. It is a solemn warning against hypocrisy, doing our good deeds “for show” to impress other people instead of to glorify God. Suggest other examples of similar sins to avoid in church life today.
4. Jesus says, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” What on earth does this mean? If this command cannot be obeyed literally, what about other commands like “turn the other cheek”? Why interpret some literally but not others?
6. When you pray Matthew 6:5-15; 7:7-11
We will use this evening not only to learn about prayer from the Sermon on the Mount, but also to discuss patterns and practices of prayer. It will be important to encourage people to share their own experiences of prayer without being afraid of criticism. As Richard Foster wisely advises, “Do not worry about proper praying, just talk to God. By praying we learn to pray.”
1. Ask the group how they like to pray? Where and when? Alone or with others? Set prayers or spontaneous prayer? Affirm that ALL these forms are prayer are pleasing to God the Father when they express our faith and love for Him through Jesus Christ His Son. (5 minutes)
2. Read Matthew 6:5-8. Some people see verses 5-6 as a condemnation of corporate prayer – but Christian worship has always included corporate and public prayer. See e.g. Acts 2:42; Acts 4:23-31; Acts 12:5, 12. Some people think that verses 6-8 rule out set prayers or liturgy. But such set prayers have always been a part of Christian worship in most church traditions. “What is Jesus actually condemning here?” (Answer: hypocrisy, praying for show, talking to people instead of to God.) (5 minutes)
3. We turn next to the Lord’s Prayer – which in fact should really be called the disciples’ prayer. Many churches recite the Lord’s Prayer together. Many Christians recite the Lord’s Prayer in their private devotions. Do members of your group find these things helpful or unhelpful? What version of the Lord’s Prayer do they use. (5 minutes)
4. Read Matthew 6:9-15. The Lord’s prayer can be used not only as a prayer in itself but also as a pattern for prayer. It begins by focussing on God our (not my) Father and His purposes in the world, and then turns to our own needs for daily sustenance, forgiveness and protection from evil (or equally “the evil one”). Invite the group to share how they structure their own prayers (e.g. with books or notes?). (10 minutes)
5. Read Matthew 6:14-15 again. What is the relationship between us forgiving others and receiving forgiveness ourselves? (Answer: As we said in study 4, when we receive God’s forgiveness, then God does call us to forgive others who have hurt us. It is not that we earn our forgiveness by forgiving others. Rather it is that as we realise how wonderful it is that God has forgiven us, miserable sinners, so God puts his love in our hearts so that we can forgive other people who have injured us.) If you did not read it in study 4, the story from Corrie Ten Boom is a powerful illustration of this. (5 minutes)
6. Read Matthew 7:7-11. Here is a wonderful invitation to prayer, with six promises that if we pray, our prayers will be answered. So why do we not pray much more than we do? Jesus show how absurd it is for us to be afraid that our heavenly Father will give us anything less than perfect answers to our prayers. Discuss together why we are often so reluctant to pray. One common problem is that we feel we are not very good at praying. Richard Foster remarks, “We will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough or know enough in order to pray rightly. We must simply set all these things aside and begin praying. In fact, it is in the very act of prayer itself – the intimate, ongoing interaction with God – that these matters are cared for in due time.” (10 mins)
Finally this evening spend some time in prayer, either introduced by reading Matthew 7:7-11 again, or else using the Lord’s prayer as a pattern for prayer, saying a line at a time together with space between for silence, meditation or spoken prayers. Encourage as many as possible to pray aloud, however briefly.
7. When you fast Matthew 6:16-18
1. Read Matthew 6:16-18. What is the essential point that Jesus is making here? (Answer: doing anything “for show” will destroy any possible blessing. Fasting will always be directed towards God and not to impress other people.) But note again verse 16 in parallel to verses 2 and 5. Jesus says “When you fast …” Jesus, as all Jews, assumes that fasting should be as natural and as important a part of the life of a true disciple as prayer or giving to the poor. So we will devote this evening to a consideration of fasting.
2. Invite group members to share their experiences of fasting – blessings and difficulties.
3. Why do people fast? Take a look at some or all of these Old Testament passages. (You may like to give individuals or pairs one or two passages each to look at and then invite them to read their passage and briefly summarise what it tells us about fasting.) Fasting for the Israelites was primarily a spontaneous rather than an organised expression of strong feeling and emotion. It was a way of saying to God, ‘I really care about this; I really mean business about this,’ in various situations. Some examples include,
• fasting in preparation to meet with God or consult God: Exodus 34:28; Judges 20:26-27.
• fasting to show sincere repentance: 1 Sam 7:5; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-10.
• fasting as a mark of humility: Psalms 35:13; 69:10.
• Day of Atonement fasting: Leviticus 16:29ff, 23:27-32. Some Christians like to fast before taking Communion.
• Regular obligatory fasts for the Israelites after the Exile: Zechariah 8:19.
• Fasting accompanying prayer, especially intercession: 2 Sam 12:15-23; Nehemiah 1:4ff.
4. What about fasting in the New Testament? Jesus says “When you fast” (Matt 6:16). Jesus Himself fasted in the wilderness. Read Matthew 4:1-4. One of the temptations was to break His fast.
Read Matthew 9:14-15. The disciples did not fast while Jesus was with them, but He taught them that one day, when He is not with them (i.e. NOW) his followers will fast. The idea that fasting is only a part of Old Testament Law and so does not apply to us is mistaken. The early church often fasted Read Acts 13:1-3; 14:23; 2 Corinthians 11:27.
5. Share any parts of the material below which you feel may be helpful to your group. Encourage them to consider a time of fasting and prayer in preparation for the next church meeting, or as part of their intercession for the needs of the world at this time.
What is fasting?
Fasting is deliberately abstaining from food for religious purposes. It is NOT merely dieting. A ‘normal’ fast involves not eating foods, but continuing to drink water. It is fair to assume that even Jesus in the desert continued to drink water (Luke 4:2ff) and more than three days without water leads to serious illness. An ‘absolute’ fast means neither eating nor drinking, but this is rare in the Bible (Acts 9:9, Deut 9:9).
Because our Lord Jesus Christ did! So also did Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul and many more. Committed Jews in Jesus’ time fasted twice a week and at the end of the First Century this was the common pattern in the Church too.
Fasting has always been a part of Roman Catholicism. Among early Protestants Luther and Calvin fasted. Wesley urged Methodists to fast every Wednesday and Friday, and wouldn’t ordain anyone to Ministry who didn’t fast twice a week! On February 6th 1756 the King of England proclaimed a day of solemn prayer and fasting for the whole nation!
Many Christians in many denominations today testify to the great value of fasting. It has special value in helping us to hear God’s voice and discover His will, in the area of spiritual warfare, and as an element of intercessory prayer.
The benefits of fasting
Fasting in the Bible is not a commandment required for salvation by all Christians. However, it seems to be assumed that all disciples WILL fast from time to time as a helpful spiritual practice.
Our rich world views happiness as having all our desires satisfied immediately. In these days of `fast food’, ‘moderation’ is unpopular and ‘abstinence’ almost unheard of. But the way of the cross replaces selfishness with self-denial (Mark 8:34-38). Fasting is an antidote to self-indulgence, helping us to develop self-control and strengthening our will to resist other temptations too. Few of us ‘subdue’ our bodies as Paul did in 1 Cor 9:24-27. Fasting as self-denial is an exercise for spiritual ‘athletes in training’.
Our Christianity can easily become purely intellectual. Religion in BOTH the Old AND the New Testament involved the whole person, body and emotions and not just mind and spirit. Kneeling to pray, eating the Lord’s Supper and being baptised allow our bodies to enter our
experience of salvation as well as our minds, and so does fasting, bringing true Biblical peace and wholeness, shalom.
An invitation to fasting
For some Christians fasting means replacing normal meals with lighter foods or much smaller portions. For others it means missing meals altogether. Many spend the time which would have been used for preparing and eating the meal in prayer instead. Others continue with their usual activities and take the pangs of hunger as prompts to prayer. Some choose to give the cost of that meal away to charity, although that is not the main purpose of fasting. Unless medical conditions (e.g. diabetes) prevent such abstinence, doctors generally agree that missing occasional meals can actually be beneficial to health. Many people find it easiest to start in one of these ways.
EITHER – a 24 hour fast
from tea-time one day tea-time the next, missing or reducing the size of breakfast and lunch on Saturday,
OR – a 36 hour fast
from tea-time one day to breakfast the day after next, missing or reducing the size of all meals on the intervening day.
Fasting is a sacrificial physical and bodily expression of our commitment to worshipping and witnessing together. It can focus our thinking and praying,
Practical hints: it is not helpful to have a large meal as the last meal before the fast, or to over-eat to make up afterwards. For those unaccustomed to hunger, frequently sipping water or fruit juice can be very helpful. “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster offers very helpful advice on fasting.
8. Treasures in heaven Matthew 6:19-24
In Matthew 7:3 Jesus challenges us, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” When it comes to the lure of riches, it is much easier to see the weakness and failings of the world around us than to recognise our own sins. Make sure that in this week’s study the focus is on what God requires of US in our everyday lives as believers and disciples, not just on the abstract “evils of materialism”.
1. Freeport Designer Village in Braintree once used this advertising slogan.
“Ours is a shallow meaningless consumer society where we are defined by our possessions. Enjoy!” Discuss (5 minutes)
2. Read Matthew 6:19-24. Jesus is talking here about materialism and greed. Ask the group how big a problem they feel this is to be in their own lives – not just in the world around us? Ask them to suggest some examples of how THEY struggle with temptations to greed or putting their trust in Money? (5 minutes)
3. Read Matthew 6:19-21. Ask the group for some examples of ways people store up treasures on earth? Is it POSSIBLE to live in a modern consumer society and NOT store up treasures on earth? (10 minutes)
4. How ‘Christian’ is it to be motivated by the desire to store up treasures in heaven? (It must be alright, because that is what Jesus commands us to do!) What should we be doing to store up treasures in heaven? (5 mins)
5. Read Matthew 6:22-23. What is Jesus talking about here? (Answer: In Greek/Aramaic there is an underlying double meaning in the words. Having “good eyes” means (i) to be single minded with undivided loyalty to God and (ii) to be generous. See Proverbs 22:9 “a generous man”. Having “bad eyes” means (i) to be unable to see where you are going but also (ii) to be ungenerous, or mean. See Deuteronomy 15:9 “show ill will”.) (5 mins)
6. It was in the 1987 film “Wall Street” that Michael Douglas’s character Gordon Gekko proclaimed the slogan on which so much of the world economy has been built. He said, “Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. Greed is good.”
Read Matthew 6:24. Jesus warns against serving the false God of Money, or Wealth. Read Colossians 3:5. We should “put to death … greed, which is idolatry.” In what ways can we be tempted to serve and worship and trust in the false god of Money instead of serving and worshipping and trusting in God? (Suggestions: by entrusting our futures to savings and pension schemes instead of to God? By putting our careers before our witnessing and Christian service? By judging other people superficially by their income and possessions? By coveting the newest, the best or even the best value rather than being satisfied with what we already have? By ever thinking “time is money”?)
How can we overcome such temptations? (10 minutes)
To think and pray about: The story is told of an occasion where St. Thomas Aquinas was walking with a prelate through one of the grand cathedrals of his day. Referring to a coffer filled with precious coins, the prelate remarked, “Behold, Master Thomas, the church can no longer say, as St. Peter, ‘Silver and gold have I none!’” St. Thomas was apparently quick with his retort, “Alas, neither can we say what follows, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.’”
9. Don’t Worry – Be Happy Matthew 6:25-34
1. What are we worried about? e.g. How do members of the Group feel about the Credit Crunch? Or about the possibility of Recession? Or all the problems in the Eurozone? How do we feel about interest rates being so low and inflation relatively high? What about the high levels of unemployment, including youth unemployment, and decreasing job security? What about the state retirement age going up?
What other things are people worried about? Health worries? Fear of crime? The way the world is changing so fast?
2. Read Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat and drink and wear. Jesus says in effect, “Don’t worry, trust God.” What steps can we take so that we worry less about life and its problems?
(Hints: e.g. praying to a Heavenly Father who knows what we need, verse 32, and realising that worrying doesn’t accomplish anything, verses 27 and 34.)
3. What could we as Christians and as a church be doing to support or help folk around us who are weighed down with worries? e.g. Money Management or Debt Counselling courses? A support group for Carers? Prayerfully consider if there are any new ways God wants us to serve our neighbours in North Springfield?
4. Read verse 33 again. What does it mean to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” in our everyday lives? Does this verse promise (as some teach) health wealth and prosperity to all who serve God? If not, why not? You may like to refer to Luke’s version of the Beatitudes which are accompanied by a set of “woes” in Luke 6:20-26 especially verses 24-25, “woe to you who are rich” etc. (10 minutes)
5. Pray for each other specifically about the worries we are facing.
10. Judging and discerning Matthew 7:1-6 and 7:15-20
This study highlights two seemingly opposing challenges facing disciples. Firstly, not to judge other people, but secondly, to show discernment so that we are not led astray by false teachings. How can we balance these two responsibilities?
1. Read Matthew 7:1-6. It is so easy to be critical of other Christians. What kinds of things can we judge each other over? (e.g. doctrines; lifestyle; “levels of spirituality”; use of money c.f. study 8.) Try to find some specific examples.
How can we move towards being less judgemental in these things? (Possible answers: e.g. by getting to know each other better, understanding and loving each other more, etc.) (15 minutes)
2. Read Matthew 7:15-20. What does Jesus mean by “false prophets”? (Answer: NOT “those who prophesy falsely” but rather those who bring false teaching or leadership which draws the focus away from God towards themselves.) Can you suggest any examples in the world today? (5 minutes)
3. What in practice does Jesus mean in verse 20, “By their fruit you will recognise them.”?
(Answer: lifestyle, consistent witness.) (5 minutes)
4. Read Acts 20:28-31. From the earliest days the church has been torn apart by false teaching. How can we make sure that we stick to what we believe to be true without falling into the trap of judging other people? Note that “not judging” is a command for every individual Christian, whereas discerning truth from error is the responsibility of the corporate church, and especially church leaders. If we disagree with other Christians, how can we make sure that we “disagree agreeably”? (10 minutes)
5. Read John 17:20-23 and 2 Tim 1:13-14. How should “not judging but discerning” work out in practice within our own fellowship (e.g. for members with opposing views at a Church Meeting), or when working alongside other churches (e.g. in Churches Together in Chelmsford, or Chelmsford and District Evangelical Fellowship) (10 minutes)
The background material overleaf, PETER’S PRINCIPLES ON WORKING WITH OTHER CHURCHES, may be of use to you.
PETER’S PRINCIPLES ON WORKING WITH OTHER CHURCHES
Church unity is no optional extra for Christians. It should be at the heart of our agenda because it is at the heart of God’s agenda! (John 17:20-23) But great difficulties arise when it comes to working out church unity in practice.
Jesus’s prayed for Christians, for those who are truly part of His body. The New Testament is full of warnings about false teachers who seek to deceive the church from inside the church. See e.g. Matt 7:15-23; Acts 20:28-31;Revelation 2:14-16, 20-24. Christians and especially church leaders have a solemn responsibility to `guard the gospel’.
`What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.’ (2 Tim 1:13-14).
So it is too simplistic to say that we are obliged to work and worship with all who call themselves Christians. Whilst it is not appropriate for individual Christians to make judgments about whether other people are truly saved, it is absolutely vital for churches and church leaders to know what the Bible teaches and to defend the truths of the gospel against any deception or dilution. We must avoid the traps of pride and self-righteousness, but we must also make sure that we are faithful, in love, to the truth as we have received and believed it. We should be prepared to enter into dialogue with any others who call themselves Christians. But we can only work and worship alongside others who worship the same Lord and preach the same gospel.
So I adopt the following principles in regard to working with other churches. I am delighted to worship and work alongside in evangelism and pastoral care all Christians and churches who in their belief and practice,
acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and God within the Holy Trinity;
recognize the fallen-ness of humanity and the need for personal repentance and faith in order to receive God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life, which comes through grace alone on the basis of Christ’s atoning and substitutionary death on the cross;
look for the working of God the Holy Spirit as the indispensable element in the life of any Christian and any church;
submit to the Bible correctly interpreted as the supreme authority for faith and practice.
The church meeting (rather than the Minister or any church representative) ultimately makes the decision about any proposed joint activities, and these must therefore be discussed well in advance. Members are free to follow their own conscience about events and activities they participate in, but no-one (not even the Minister) should be seen as representing the church unless appointed to do so by the church meeting. The church should not be prepared to give an open-ended commitment of co-operation to any other church or body, which would erode its own solemn responsibility to guard and proclaim the gospel. I stand opposed to so-called `multi-faith’ worship and the preaching of any other gospel, including any implications of universalism.
In considering possible co-operation the church should always be concerned that the proposed activity will prove to be the most effective witness to Jesus Christ and/or the most helpful in building up believers. On occasions involvement may be constrained by the Church’s overall priorities and by the limits of its church’s resources including time and money.
Rev Peter Thomas 1994, 2011
11. Hearing and doing Matthew 7:12-14 and 7:21-29
We use this final study to survey and sum up the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.
1. Ask members of the group to share which verse (or two) in Matthew 5-7 has spoken to them most powerfully, or which of the studies have been the most helpful or challenging to them. Discuss how our lives will be different as a result of these studies. (10 minutes)
2. Read Matthew 7:12-14. This begins with what some call “The Golden Rule”, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Ask the group for some examples of what this means to them in daily life? Is this an adequate basis for Christian morality and ethics? (Answer: At one level, yes. However since it is very possible to follow this rule without any reference to God at all, or whilst worshipping other gods, by itself the Golden Rule is not sufficient. Many people think that all they need to do to be Christians is to try their best to live according to this Rule. They are misguided.) (5 mins)
3. Read verses 13-14 again. Ask the group to suggest some practical examples of “the small gate and the narrow road” and “the wide gate and the broad road” in everyday life. How can we distinguish these paths? (10 minutes)
4. Read Matthew 7:21-23. What reasons are given here to explain why Jesus will reject some people on the Day of Judgement? How can we make sure we do not make the same mistakes as these false disciples? (Answers: they were trusting in their own good works instead of God’s grace, claiming the authority of Christ but not entering into a personal relationship with Him.) (5 minutes)
5. Read Matthew 7:24-27. What is the essential message of the two house builders? (Answer: the difference is NOT between people who know Jesus’s teaching and people who are ignorant of that teaching. The distinction is between people who put what they know into practice in their daily lives and people who know the truth but do NOT put it into practice.) (5 minutes)
6. Again ask the group, which part of the Sermon on the Mount do they find hardest (not to understand but) to put into practice in their daily lives? Read James 1:21-25. Pray for each other that God will help us to “be doers of the word, not hearers only.” (10 mins)